Editorial: Shatter state police's culture of secrecy
Newly appointed Illinois State Police Director Jonathan Monken certainly represents a big change for the state police.
He doesn’t come from a police background, he’s remarkably young and he’s a brand new name in state government.
It’s our hope that his appointment will signal a cultural change within the Illinois State Police with regard to making records more accessible to the public. Under Monken’s predecessor Larry Trent, who was appointed in 2003 by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, the Illinois State Police has become infamous for its restrictive policy on requests for information under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.
* Linda Rossolille of Essex wanted to see the accident reports on the pickup truck crash that killed her 23-year-old son James in July 2005. The state police denied her request, saying that releasing the report would be a privacy violation because it would identify people who spoke to investigators.
“We just want to know what happened to our son,” Rossolille told The State Journal-Register in 2007. “They didn’t give us anything, is what they did.”
* Richard Schmidt of Lockport was struggling to make sense of his mother’s suicide in 2006 when he requested reports on her death. What he got were redacted documents that shed no light on the incident.
“I didn’t get placement of the body; I didn’t get angles of the bullet; I didn’t get the pathologist’s report; I didn’t get technical information that might help me relax a little bit about it,” said Schmidt.
And state police can be capricious in their Freedom of Information Act compliance.
Joseph Perruquet Jr., serving 18 years at Menard Correctional Center for kidnapping, child abduction and sexual abuse, asked for all reports pertaining to his case and got them within a month of filing a Freedom of Information Act request with the state police.
Perruquet’s request was one of many examined by State Journal-Register reporter Bruce Rushton in an extensive review of the Illinois State Police’s 2005-06 FOIA requests and responses.
When Rushton requested the same records, using nearly identical language, it took state police just a week to deny the request, citing privacy concerns.
Courts have consistentlyheld that information deemed public under the Freedom of Information Act is public without regard to the person requesting it.
We could go on with these examples. Combined with the ISP’s lax system for keeping track of its responses to FOIA requests, these incidents indicate an agency that simply does not take openness seriously.
It’s our sincere hope that the General Assembly does its part to fix this by passing a bill now in the House that would create a public access counselor in the attorney general’s office who would be the final authority in FOIA matters for state government.
But even without that, we hope Monken will make shattering the state police’s culture of secrecy a priority.