What part of openness does the Illinois State Police fail to understand? The State Journal-Register just fought a two-month battle to get basic information on a DUI arrest that anyone should be able to get. In the process, the fight yielded a strongly worded statement by the Illinois Attorney General’s Office that such information was public, and releasing it was not a violation of other laws. Now the ISP is taking a new step in its policies that undercuts directives from the state’s governor and chief law enforcement officer.

What part of openness does the Illinois State Police fail to understand?


The State Journal-Register just fought a two-month battle to get basic information on a DUI arrest that anyone should be able to get. In the process, the fight yielded a strongly worded statement by the Illinois Attorney General’s Office that such information was public, and releasing it was not a violation of other laws.


Now the ISP is taking a new step in its policies that undercuts directives from the state’s governor and chief law enforcement officer.


“We don't have a written policy that requires any change in how we do it,” ISP spokesman Scott Compton said. “However, we are taking a much closer look at all (Freedom of Information Act requests) and are being much more open to their release.”


The agency says it may make basic information available on a Web site such as names, dates of arrest and the time of the arrest. If anyone wants more information, they apparently would have to go through the standard FOIA process.


On the surface that sounds like a step forward, but is it?


The effort by the SJ-R to get a field report shows what the FOIA process might look like. It took the paper two months and an attorney general’s opinion to get the information.


Previous experience begs the question: Is this what would pass for standard procedure? If so, the change does little to address the agency’s abysmal record on FOIA compliance.


We’d like to see Gov. Pat Quinn — who is publicly all about fumigation and transparency — fix the agency’s longstanding flaws. He can do this by ordering the ISP to craft a written standard communicated to all in the agency that makes clear what information should be released. This policy should go far in avoiding the half-hearted changes the ISP wants to foist on the public as a substantive policy shift.


Quinn appointed Jonathon Monken as the ISP’s director. Despite criticism by many that Monken’s too young or inexperienced to hold the job, we’ve advocated that Monken deserves a fair chance to prove himself.


Part of this chance to prove himself in part should be that Monken changes the ISP’s culture of denial.


To be clear, we’re not advocating opening up internal police procedure or investigative matters that could preclude conviction. What we are asking is that routine reports, many of which would be made available in the discovery process of a trial anyway, be provided to the public.


Other states do this without any apparent degradation of their ability to fight crime or protect the public.


We would suggest to Monken and Quinn that substantive FOIA policy changes be written into ISP’s manuals and that all employees be held accountable for following through on the directives.


The ISP has for decades had a history of blowing off FOIA requests from Illinois residents. The agency has acted as if it is accountable only to itself when it comes to releasing information. Data is jealously guarded as if it is akin to secrets for a nuclear bomb, despite the fact that many other states release information as a matter of course.


Failure to do so shows a lack of engagement with the interests of the state’s governor, the state’s attorney general and, more importantly, the public.


Monken should have the ISP’s policies rewritten. Those policies should clearly fall on the side of providing the public information. If Monken fails to do that, then Gov. Quinn’s pledge of openness in government begins to ring hollow, indeed.


State Journal-Register