Suit: Chicago’s destruction of 911 recordings violates state law

(CHICAGO) A lawsuit filed Tuesday by a group of Chicago-area civil rights lawyers alleges the city’s policy of destroying 911 call recordings after 30 days violates state law.

The suit, filed in Cook County Circuit Court by the Chicago Civil Rights Project, claims the city deletes the recordings “for administrative convenience,” unless there is a notice to preserve specific recordings.

Bill McCaffrey, a spokesman for the city’s law department, declined to comment on the suit but said in an email that the city “has taken significant steps to improve transparency and access to public records during the past year, including increasing the time to store audio recordings from 30 to 90 days.”

Workers at the Office of Emergency Management and Communication can certify the destruction of 911 recordings if they don’t contain relevant evidence in pending or anticipated cases, but the suit claims recordings are often destroyed “without conducting any affirmative investigation.”

Backup copies of recordings are stored, but aren’t searchable by the Chicago Civil Rights Project and other attorneys who use them in criminal defense and exoneration cases, the suit says.

The city’s system dates back to a time when calls were stored on tape and overwritten to cut costs. A digital upgrade for up to 20 years of storage would cost the city less than $10,000, the suit says.

The lawsuit, which alleges the city is in violation of the Local Records Act, seeks a court order to halt the destruction of 911 calls and transfer all backup recordings to the city’s primary system, making them available to the public.