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Police Reform Advocates, FOP Await Illinois Supreme Court Ruling About Whether Officer Misconduct Records May Be Destroyed

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The call for police reform and moving problem officers from the ranks is now more urgent than ever for many activists.

On Thursday, the Illinois Supreme Court will hand down a ruling that could either help push reform or put it in reverse. As CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov reported, it has to do with the destruction of police misconduct records.

The union representing Chicago Police officers wants to be able to destroy all the officer misconduct records and complaints that are older than five years. Critics of that effort say it only protects officers with troubling backgrounds.

Grief continues for families of people killed by Chicago Police officers – in many cases wrongfully.

"We need to stop this," said University of Chicago law professor and civil rights attorney Craig Futterman.

People fighting for police reform, such as Futterman, said officer backgrounds and misconduct records are key to tracking and firing problem cops – especially in the wake of George Floyd's death in Minneapolis and subsequent protests.

But as we first told you in January, the Fraternal Order of Police wants all misconduct records destroyed after five years. They pushed the case all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court, which will hand down its ruling on Thursday.

"Tomorrow, if there's an order that says, 'Bring on the great bonfire of records, all that evidence abuse - all that ability to actually address ongoing practices of abuse – will go up in smoke," Futterman said.

Futterman, along with the Invisible Institute's Jamie Kalven, fought to have police misconduct records made public – and won.

"It was a battle," Kalven said. "It was close to 10 years of litigation."

Since the Illinois Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, the FOP's leadership has changed.

"What I've seen is a doubling down on resistance, denial," Futterman said of the FOP now.

Futterman argued officers' misconduct records will also help the Police Department comply with the federal consent decree that was imposed on it. Losing the records, he said, would be a blow to the community, the department, and the city.

"These records belong to all the people of Chicago," Futterman said. "We need them."

On Wednesday afternoon, the FOP's attorney said this is about following the terms in the CPD's collective bargaining agreement with the city, which allows for the personnel records to be destroyed after five years.

The attorney said there are even provisions in the contract that allow the city to preserve those records if needed. His argument is that the city needs to abide by the contract.

On Wednesday afternoon, Mayor Lori Lightfoot reiterated her view that the records should not be destroyed – that they are public and should stay that way.

A representative of police Supt. David Brown said he agrees they should remain intact.

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