Across the county, public and private sector offices require their staff to hold onto paperwork for a specific amount of time. At the Springfield, Illinois police department, most of their documents are kept in-house for five years. However, earlier this year police chief Robert Williams and Don Edwards, the agency’s union president, voted to allow certain internal affairs files to be destroyed in four years, according to the State-Journal Register.
This has become an issue in the Springfield area because two parties requested for these files under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), knowing that the paperwork wouldn’t be there. Now the city has a lawsuit under its belt for improper destruction of public records.
Among the files that were destroyed was information about Deputy Chief Cliff Buscher’s fishing trip in Missouri with some officers in 2008. During the trip, he fired his service weapon, which led to demotion and suspension from service. As Buscher is working his way back into the ranks at the police department, any past incidents like the 2008 excursion could be detrimental.
Calvin Christian, the plaintiff of the lawsuit, made sure his FOIA request would make it before the shredding began. The request arrived six days in advance, but that did not stop the department, according to the Illinois Times. Instead, he looked into getting every copy of internal affairs the police had on file, but that inquiry was denied as well.
Lieutenant Chris Mueller, the head of the internal affairs office, saw that Buscher’s file was among the 140 to be shredded on April 25 and told fellow lieutenant Greg Williamson that “the move might be politically motivated,” but Williamson replied that [Mueller] could not be involved as [Williamson] was a part of that particular case file.”
Mueller felt conflicted because he knew he would be the one shredding the files and felt confident that this act may violate the law. Now that the files are gone, thanks to the efforts of 30 individuals within the department and union, they will have to explain their motives to the local courthouse.
Businesses can protect the integrity of their files through the assistance of a full service records and information management provider. Such an organizations will hold onto these records for as long as they are needed, they also provide paper shredding options once the paper retention cycle ends.