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City keeps records under wraps

September 6, 2018

KANKAKEE — The city apparently is keeping secret its correspondence with the state related to its use of a state criminal database.

On Tuesday, the city said it was denying the Daily Journal’s Aug. 20 request for the correspondence, citing a state regulation that says information from the database cannot be given to any organization that is unauthorized to have it.

Last month, interim Police Chief Price Dumas resigned, three weeks after the Daily Journal reported he used the database, known as LEADS, to investigate two critics of the mayor. The state police has since launched an investigation into Dumas’ use of the database, which cannot be used for personal purposes.

In its request for information, the newspaper was not seeking information from the database, which state regulation protects, but rather correspondence about its use. The Daily Journal on Wednesday requested the city to release the correspondence with information from the database blacked out. Removing private information is a common way public bodies comply with records requests.

Late last week, the city released former interim Police Chief Dumas’ resignation letter, but did not answer other parts of the Daily Journal’s Aug. 20 request. The city said the Daily Journal would need to contact the state police for the correspondence and had no response on the newspaper’s request for copies of subpoenas related to the state investigation. (The city said Tuesday it had received no subpoenas.)

Don Craven, an attorney for the Springfield-based Illinois Press Association, said the city must answer whether it has documents in its possession. Telling a requester to go look somewhere else, he said, does not answer a request.

Ben Silver, an attorney with the Elmhurst-based Citizen Advocacy Center, said the longer it takes for a government agency to respond to a records request, the harder it becomes to cite an exception to the law.

In a July interview, Dumas said he investigated one of Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong’s critics because the man had posted a photo on Facebook of the mayor’s city vehicle at City Hall. The chief said he didn’t remember why he looked into the other critic.

Last month, a city attorney said the critics were viewed as a threat, but did not say why. The city says it has no records to show either man was investigated as being threats.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, anyone has the right to file requests with government agencies.

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