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City watchdog calls for immediate changes to CPD’s search warrant policy

The Office of the Inspector General on Friday released some preliminary findings “[i]n light of the urgent need to prevent serious harm to Chicagoans in the execution of search warrants at the wrong addresses, and in recognition of pressing public concern around these issues.”

A screenshot from body-camera video of a police raid in 2019 at the home of social worker Anjanette Young. The police were in the wrong home.
A screenshot from body-camera video of a police raid in 2019 at the home of social worker Anjanette Young.
CBS 2 Chicago

The Office of the Inspector General on Friday called for the Chicago Police Department to make immediate changes to its policy on search warrants, which has come under heavy scrutiny in light of the botched raid at the home of social worker Anjanette Young.

In a Jan. 20 letter to CPD Supt. David Brown, Deputy Inspector General for Public Safety Deborah Witzburg wrote the CPD should immediately amend its policy on search warrants to require a more thorough vetting process for a source’s information. Witzburg also called for the department to broaden the circumstances under which an internal investigation can be launched after a wrongful raid by police.

The department classifies search warrants in three ways:

  • “John Doe” warrants, in which the source wants to stay anonymous and does not receive compensation, monetary or otherwise, for cooperating;
  • Unregistered confidential individual warrants, in which the source has not received compensation and is not registered with the CPD’s now-defunct Bureau of Organized Crime;
  • Registered confidential individual warrants, in which the source is eligible for compensation and is registered with the Bureau of Organized Crime.

As it stands now, only “John Doe” warrants require the provided information be “verified and corroborated by an independent investigation,” Witzburg wrote.

After bodycam footage of the raid on Young’s home drew universal condemnation, the Office of the Inspector General opened an investigation into the CPD’s search warrant practices. Typically, the OIG waits until the conclusion of an investigation to issue its findings and recommendations.

But the OIG on Friday released some preliminary findings “[i]n light of the urgent need to prevent serious harm to Chicagoans in the execution of search warrants at the wrong addresses, and in recognition of pressing public concern around these issues.”

In the raid on Young’s home, police did have a warrant to be there, but it was based on faulty information, as the target of the investigation did not live in Young’s home.

As it stands now, no internal investigation is opened if a search warrant’s source information is found to be “inaccurate or in some way faulty,” Witzburg wrote.

The OIG recommended the CPD “modify its directive on search warrants to require verification and corroboration of information in all circumstances and broaden the circumstances in which supervisors must initiate an investigation to determine whether discipline is necessary and appropriate when a search warrant is erroneous in fact or execution.”

For his part, Brown agreed and said changes to the CPD’s search warrant policy were imminent.

“I have formed a Search Warrant Committee headed by the Chief of Patrol, Brian McDermott, and have instructed them to meet to conduct a top-down review of policy, training, resources and every aspect that touches on obtaining and serving a search warrant,” Brown wrote to Witzburg earlier this week. “This committee is in its infancy but is poised to have its initial recommendations for policy changes later this month.”

The OIG’s ongoing investigation is one of three launched after the raid on Young’s home put City Hall on the defensive. The investigation into the officers’ actions, undertaken by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, is also expected to be completed this month.

A third investigation, led by retired federal judge Ann Claire Williams, is also ongoing.