The Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) provides public access to all government agency records with some exceptions. For example, agencies are required to disclose the accessible records when they receive a written request. Under FOIA (5 ILCS 140/), this can include “records, reports, forms, writings, letters, memoranda, books, papers, maps, photographs, microfilms, cards, tapes, recordings, electronic data processing records, electronic communications, recorded information and all other documentary materials pertaining to the transaction of public business…”
For example, you can make FOIA requests for access to the City of Chicago’s 24-hour streaming video from red-light cameras from the Department of Transportation.
In this Article
Common Types of FOIA Requests in Chicago
According to the City of Chicago FOIA website, the most common FOIA requests include: building permits, boot and tow info, contracts and payments, and City Council meeting minutes.
Each city department is responsible for maintaining different records and will handle FOIA requests related to the public business of their department. Some examples include:
The number of calls or complaints about businesses, locations, or services
City Council budget hearing documentation and budget requests
Permits, plans, or violations
Business Affairs and Consumer Protection
Business license or business owner information
Consumer product recall list
Taxi medallion information
Chicago Police Department
Arrest reports, case reports, or supplementary case reports
Chicago Police Board
The Superintendent of Police’s monthly reports including crime statistics, complaint statistics, and general orders that have been issued
Records from police disciplinary cases including the Board’s findings and decisions
Transcripts of the Police Board’s public meetings
Cultural Affairs and Special Events
Information about parades, festivals, runs, and other special events
Emergency Management and Communication (OEMC)
911 audio, event queries, or location reports
Video requests (including video from police observation device cameras)
Contracts, proposals, or solicitations including RFQs, RFPs, etc.
Supplier diversity information
Streets and Sanitation
Other City Department Requests
A longer list of departments and the more frequently requested FOIA requests they handle can be found on chicago.gov.
Can you do a FOIA request by yourself?
Yes! There are no requirements to be an attorney, to be represented by an attorney, or in a lawsuit in order to submit requests under FOIA.
Video – How to Complete a FOIA Request with the Chicago Police Department
This video provides a step by step guide for how to make a police FOIA request with the Chicago Police Department via Chicago’s website: chicago.gov/publicrecords. Your Freedom of Information Act request with the Chicago police department might be for a case record, arrest record, or for crime statistics.
Video – How to Complete a FOIA Request with the Office of Emergency Management and Communication
This video provides a step by step guide for how to make FOIA requests with the OEMC via Chicago’s website: chicago.gov/publicrecords. FOIA requests from the OEMC might include 911 audio, 911 event queries, or video requests for footage from police department observation device cameras.
How do I make FOIA requests?
If information is not publicly available, you can submit a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request yourself. These FOIA requests must be made to the responsible city, state, or federal agency, and each agency will describe specifically how to submit the FOIA request. Many agencies will offer a stock or template request form and will accept these requests electronically. Agencies only have access to their own records, so make sure you pick the right agency when making your Freedom of Information Act Request.
All Freedom of Information requests to the City of Chicago departments can be made online at chicago.gov/publicrecords and must include the following information:
Your name, mailing address, and contact information
A detailed description of the records that are being requested
How do I know which agency to send my FOIA request to in Illinois?
You can find a neatly compiled listing of Illinois Agencies and their respective contacts on the Illinois.gov website. The list conveniently includes e-mails and physical addresses.
What can I request under FOIA?
A request can be made from any agency record. However, you must be very specific about what kind of documents you seek and what kind of format you would like to receive them. An agency does not need to create new records, research or analyze its records, or answer questions when responding to the requests. A FOIA request is a request for document production and that is it.
Requests that are too broad may be denied. For example, requesting video footage for a week is an unreasonably broad request that would result in a huge video file and would most likely be denied.
What is not covered by FOIA?
You cannot request records that do not belong to the agency itself. You also cannot request personal requests or to physically inspect artifacts or samples. Additional exemptions to FOIA requests are trade secrets, internal agency rules, matters classified due to national security concerns, or those explicitly exempted by statute. Personally identifiable data, like a social security number for example, will also not be included in the data that is released in a FOIA request.
How long does a FOIA request take?
If a request is made to a federal agency, the request must be granted or denied within twenty business days. If a delay is expected, the agency will inform you in writing and explain why it needs an extension. The extension is to not exceed ten business days beyond the original twenty.
In Illinois, the Agency will respond to the request within five business days or twenty-one days if it is a commercial request as defined by FOIA.
Is there a charge for FOIA?
There is a nominal charge for black and white copying that is $.15 per page if the total number of pages is more than fifty. Color copies or oversized copies may result in increased charges. If there is any fee to be paid, the agency will inform you in writing.
Can a FOIA request be denied?
Yes. If the custodian of public the records at the agency determines an exemption (see above) applies or that there are no records that correlate to your request, your request will be denied in writing.
What can I do if the agency denied my FOIA request?
In Illinois, 5 ILCS 140/3.5 section 9.5 answers that question. If you disagree with the Agency’s reasoning of its denial, you can file a request for review in writing to the Public Access Coordinator in the Office of the Attorney General. This must be done no later than sixty days after the denial. Your request must be signed by you and include a summary of the arguments supporting your position. A person may also file a lawsuit in your local circuit court for injunctive and/or declaratory relief.