CHICAGO – Chicago City Hall has refused to release its "data dictionaries" to help explain the city's information about 911 calls and police responses, and the Chicago Justice Project has recently filed a lawsuit to compel the city to make the information public.
In June, CJP had asked the city's Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC) to provide it with the labels that explain the contents of each field in the data, which includes reasons for why Chicagoans are calling the police and when they're calling. About three weeks later, OEMC denied that request, stating that the information would reveal the trade secrets of its software vendor, Northrop Grumman, according to the complaint.
Tracy Siska, executive director of CJP, said this should not have led to a lawsuit.
“This should've been a very easy transaction,” Siska told the Cook County Record. “I've never heard of any other jurisdiction releasing the data to you but not telling you what it means. I've never heard of that happening – never. It defies logic why you would release the data but not tell people what it means. Usually people just withhold the data."
Siska said that OEMC provided his organization with a letter, which was dated after the request, that stated the city was forced to withhold the information due to contractual restraints. But Siska said that the city had no contract with Northrop Grumman that stated it must withhold the requested information.
"It was clearly their decision whether or not to release the data dictionary – period,” he said. “There was nothing from Northrop Grumman that they had in their possession in any of their contracts ... that said that they couldn't release (the information). And I know because I requested that very material …”
The complaint cites the Freedom of Information Act, and Siska said the city is withholding the information for reasons that are not contractual.
"I think it's possible that (OEMC is) more afraid of Northrop Grumman ... than they are us ...,” Siska said. “Also, I think it's possible that it's just a natural reaction anytime they're forced to deal with transparency. Their natural reaction is to hide and to cover up, and that's throughout the entire the city.
"It's across every department throughout Chicago – period. Every city department has the same mentality, which is [to] cover up, lie, do whatever they have to to obfuscate what they're doing, whether it's good or bad. They want no transparency whatsoever."
He said this information, through social science studies, could help decide how many police officers Chicago needs and in what areas they should be allocated.
“That's a question social science can answer,” Siska told the Cook County Record. “You don't need politics to answer that; science can do it for you. And it's done regularly around the state of Illinois and the rest of the country.”
“With all the problems we have in Chicago around hiring more officers or not, and crime and how many officers do we need – science can answer that. OEMC's preventing it."