On Friday, January 10, 2020, Cook County Judge Sophia Hall denied the Mayor’s Office bid to withhold over 400 documents concerning the creation of the Joint Public Safety Academy (“Cop Academy”), on Chicago’s West Side. The decision was issued in FOIA litigation brought by Debbie Southorn and Erin Glasco, the plaintiffs and organizers with #NoCopAcademy campaign, filed in the spring of 2018.
Southorn and Glasco previously filed several FOIA requests seeking information regarding Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plans to build the Cop Academy in West Garfield Park, estimated to cost over $95 million, which many believe is wholly unnecessary and will not decrease police violence that destroys the lives of scores of Black and Latinx people in Chicago. The original decision to create the Cop Academy was shrouded in secrecy without any public input as to whether it should be built and where it should be located.
In describing why they brought the lawsuit, Plaintiff Southorn said, “From the outset, Mayor Emanuel engaged in extensive planning and preparation to build this police academy without consulting the residents of the West side or Chicago. We filed the lawsuit to get all the plans he refused to disclose so that the civilians of Chicago can have all the necessary information to evaluate whether their taxpayer funds should be used to build a police academy or whether their money is better spent on school, mental health and other social services desperately needed on Chicago’s West side.”
The Mayor’s Office argued the documents, including those pertaining to public messaging about the Cop Academy, were protected from disclosure by the “deliberative process privilege.” The People’s Law Office, representing Southorn, Glasco and the #NoCopAcdemy campaign, argued that the bulk of the documents were not protected from disclosure because the materials were generated after Mayor Emanuel made the ultimate decision to build the Cop Academy, and therefore, were not deliberative of his decision to build it. To date, the Mayor’s Office has refused to disclose when Mayor Emanuel decided to build the Cop Academy.
After months of litigation and several oral arguments, Judge Sophia Hall ruled that Mayor Emanuel was the final decision maker regarding whether to create the Cop Academy and materials withheld by the Office of the Mayor after he made the decision to build the Academy must be disclosed. Judge Hall’s ruling affirmed #NoCopAcademy’s argument that “the Mayor’s role was to make a decision as to whether to pursue the construction of the JPSTA [Cop Academy]. The Mayor’s Office announcement in the July 3, 2017 Press Release reflected the Mayor’s Office’s decision to build the JPSTA [cop academy].”
This is a win for #NoCopAcademy activists fighting for transparency around how decisions happen in the city of Chicago, and setting the historical record straight. We look forward to reviewing the newly released documents and continuing to support those who organize for investment in youth and communities, not expanded investments in policing. Read the decision: here.
Southorn, Glasco and the #NoCopAcademy campaign are represented by Joey Mogul, Ben Elson and Christian Snow of the People’s Law Office.