Reporter Jamie Kalven prevails in legal battle with police

Staff Writer

A local reporter and nonprofit leader recently won a key legal battle over police transparency in the Illinois Court of Appeals.

Kalven v. Chicago Police Department was settled Monday, March 14, years after after Jamie Kalven, founder of the not-for-profit journalist collective Invisible Institute, 6100 S. Blackstone Ave., filed suit.

“It’s a fairly complex piece of litigation, but at the center of it, is the question of whether documents about allegations of official misconduct by the police are public business,” Kalven said. “And the city has been in the posture of arguing that these are essentially private personnel matters.”

The road to Kalven’s case began in November 2009 after he filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. In early December, Kalven was denied access to information by the Chicago Police Department on five of its officers as well as a list of the city’s most complained about police officers; he filed suit later that month.

The request came on the heels of years of reporting by Kalven on the long demolished Stateway Gardens apartments, where a resident filed a suit alleging abuse by police abuse and subsequently settled. During that time, the City produced documentation of citizen complaints, but they were subject to a protective order and never used in court. Kalven intervened to make some of the documents public.

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals eventually ruled against declassifying the documents, although its opinion contained a footnote admitting that the “protective order does not interfere with Kalven’s ability to try to obtain the documents he seeks directly from the City under the Illinois FOIA.”

“We kind of took the Seventh Circuit up on the invitation of that footnote,” Kalven said.

Kalven does not yet have access to the documents, but the city has said it will seek to appeal this month’s ruling at the Illinois Supreme Court.

Kalven said police legitimacy is increased and effectiveness enhanced “if citizens — particularly citizens in relatively abandoned neighborhoods — have greater confidence that there are limits on police power and that there are some credible, reliable mechanisms for them to have an avenue for enforcing those limits when police have exceeded them.”

He added, “I can only speculate why the Department is so resistant to these sort of basic principles of transparency.”

To read the court’s opinion in Kalven v. Chicago Police Deparmtent, visit


Twitter: @jeffhba