Watchdog: Grayslake breaks records law
Police require ID for reports; no other area agencies do
GRAYSLAKE – To get a police report in Grayslake, you must fill out a form, present a driver's license or state ID, and show up in person to the police station, according to the village's website.
Those requirements appear to violate the state Freedom of Information Act, which mandates that nearly all public records are just that, public. The law places few hurdles to get government information.
Under FOIA, a person could present a public records request on a cocktail napkin (thought not recommended) and an agency must honor it.
A section of Grayslake's website is devoted to the Freedom of Information Act. Its policy reflects state law.
But it includes a subcategory – "Requesting Police Reports." There, residents are told that to get such reports, they must present driver's licenses or state IDs and show up in person to make requests during business hours. A form is made available online, which it said "needs" to be filled out to get information.
"Please allow seven business days for processing," the form says.
However, the Freedom of Information Act says agencies must respond to requests within 5 business days, with the possibility of a 5-day extension for a limited number of reasons such as if they are considered "unduly burdensome."
The police give two options for delivery – either by mail or pickup – despite the fact that most records are electronic these days and can be delivered by email, as many agencies already do.
Lake County Suburban Life checked online for the FOIA policies of other area towns, including Round Lake, Round Lake Beach, Round Lake Heights, Round Lake Park, Antioch, Lake Villa, Lindenhurst, Fox Lake and Wauconda. It found no other major departures from state law.
Towns are required to accept requests by email, and most indicate they do on their websites. Wauconda was an exception. It indicated a number of ways it takes requests, but did not list email. However, when a village employee was contacted, she readily gave an email address for requests.
In a recent interview, Grayslake Police Chief Phil Perlini said the village accepts FOIA requests for police reports, but seeks to make it easier through its request procedure.
The department's process allows for "back and forth communication" and better defines what people are looking for, he said. The FOIA procedure, by contrast, can make it harder for people to get the information they need, he said.
With the department's process, he said, "there's an understanding of what people want."
Nothing in the "Requesting Police Reports" section suggests FOIA as an alternative.
Victor Filippini, the village's attorney, said Grayslake is offering a process for people to get documents that would otherwise be denied under FOIA. If a person gets a DUI and the case has yet to be resolved, for example, that person may be able to get the report under the separate process, while it would be exempt from disclosure under FOIA because it is an active case, he said.
"Most communities would just say no," Filippini said. "The village is trying to be a little more helpful."
If there is confusion he said, the village may have to "reorient" the website.
Don Craven, an attorney for the Illinois Press Association, which specializes in open government issues, said he has never heard of a police department requiring photo IDS to get records.
"I've been in this for 32 years," he said. "Nothing in the act requires you to give an ID."
Andrea Alvarez, an attorney with the Elmhurst-based watchdog group, Citizen Advocacy Center, said the Grayslake Police Department is violating state law "on the face of it."
"They need to have the same policy as Illinois law," she said. "They can make their process faster and more responsive, but not less responsive and slower."
In 2011, Lake County Suburban Life's sister paper, the Daily Gazette in Sterling, found that the Sterling Police Department also violated the law by requiring those requesting records to present photo IDs.
After the newspaper pointed out the violation, the police ended the requirement.