In August 2021, a reporter submitted a FOIA request to the City of Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC) seeking certain 911 call data, including response times to incidents. Although OEMC provided a data set responsive to the FOIA request, OEMC withheld 911 response times pursuant to FOIA exemption 7(1)(d)(vi), which exempts records that would endanger the life or physical safety of law enforcement personnel or any other person, and FOIA exemption 7(1)(v), which exempts from disclosure certain response policies and plans designed to identify, prevent, or respond to potential attacks on a community’s population, systems, facilities or installations.

The reporter then appealed to the PAC Office of the Attorney General, which office issued an opinion finding that OEMC violated FOIA by improperly withholding the 911 call response time data pursuant to FOIA exemptions 7(1)(d)(vi) and 7(1)(v). PAC Op. 21-012.

Specifically, the PAC rejected OEMC’s speculative assertions that 911 call response times could (rather than would) endanger the life of safety of first responders or other people, because OEMC’s assertion that response times could be used to target criminal activities in areas that take longer for police personnel to respond to than others were conclusory and unsupported by a detailed factual basis. Unless the response time data clearly demonstrates a pattern of consistently slower response times within particular districts that could be exploited for criminal purposes, which the PAC said OEMC failed to assert or prove, the PAC concluded that OEMC improperly withheld the 911 response time data under exemption 7(1)(d)(vi).

The PAC also concluded that OEMC improperly withheld the 911 response times underr exemption 7(1)(v) because the plain language of exemption 7(1)(v) only applies to three categories of records (vulnerability assessments, security measures, and response policies or plans), not to factual response time data demonstrating the performance of public duties by public employees, and response time records are not plans designed to meet any objective stated in the exemption, so response time records fall outside the scope of the exemption.

Post Authored by Eugene Bolotnikov, Ancel Glink