by Dale Chappell
A public records request by the Chicago Tribune found that the Chicago Police Department has been doing background checks and creating files on citizens who speak at weekly meetings of the city’s police disciplinary board. A police spokesman admitted it goes back to at least 2018.
Documents obtained by the Tribune showed that the background checks looked for any open warrants, investigative alerts, and whether the person speaking was a registered sex offender. Police also went online and searched for any posts the person may have made on social media sites.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she was “furious and incredulous,” and that she would “make sure that we get to the bottom of this and understand who is responsible.” She said people have a right to express themselves. “That’s what the First Amendment is all about,” she said.
And Karen Sheley, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois Police Practices Project, agreed. “They’re starting to collect a picture of information about a person by investigating them online and also in criminal databases and keeping a file on it,” she explained. “That’s dossier collecting on people because they’ve engaged in free speech,” she said, noting that “it raises First Amendment concerns.”
Chicago police superintendent Eddie Johnson didn’t deny that his department was collecting information on people speaking at the meeting but said that “nobody did anything with it.”
Those who wanted to speak were previously required to sign up at least a day before the meeting, but in light of the findings by the Tribune’s records request, speakers have to sign up just 15 minutes before the meetings.
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