Cook County to appeal ruling finding Chicago police investigative alerts unconstitutional

The controversial practice allowed officers to arrest people without obtaining a search warrant and has cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in misconduct settlements in recent years.

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Photo by Sophia Nahli Allison

The Cook County state’s attorney’s office plans to appeal a court ruling that would force Chicago police to stop using investigative alerts, previously known as “stop orders,” to arrest people.

The Illinois appellate court recently ruled the controversial tactic unconstitutional. It had been in use since 2001, according to the decision.

Completely ending investigative alerts could save the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in police misconduct settlements. The Chicago Reporter has identified at least 11 settled lawsuits involving investigative alerts since 2011, mainly occurring on the South and West sides.

The alerts allow police to arrest people without obtaining a search warrant or without an officer personally observing any crime. This gave police the ability to obtain internal approval for searching or arresting someone without ever having to go to a judge as they would when acquiring a search warrant. 

The court ordered a new trial for the defendant Cordell Bass, who was sentenced to eight years in prison for a 2014 sexual assault case. He was originally arrested on the basis of an investigative alert.

Cook County is the only jurisdiction in the state known to use investigative alerts, Justice Michael B. Hyman noted in the majority opinion. 

“The Chicago Police Department has a system where … police officers can obtain approval for arrests without the one thing the framers of the Illinois Constitution thought most essential — the presentation of sworn facts to a judge,” Hyman wrote. “So our decision merely puts the Chicago police officers on equal footing with their colleagues in other departments throughout the State of Illinois.” 

In response to the majority opinion, the Cook County state’s attorney’s office commented to the Reporter, “We respectfully disagree with the Court’s ruling regarding this decision and will be filing a petition to rehear the matter in the Appellate Court.”

The office declined to comment any further as the issue involves pending litigation.

Cases identified by the Reporter highlight a lack of transparency, miscommunication, and poor execution in CPD’s use of investigative alerts, according to lawsuit complaints. 

In one $570,000 settlement, detailed in the Reporter’s Settling for Misconduct database, an investigative alert was issued for a wrongly identified man: Frank Craig. Officers were looking for a Frank or Jane Craig from California. Despite finding no connection between the local Frank Craig and the California case, officers issued an investigative alert and arrested him on armed robbery charges.

Craig spent two months in jail, costing him his job and income he needed to support his family. The city ultimately paid Craig $280,000 and covered $290,000 in his legal fees to settle the lawsuit.

“What the Chicago police were doing was sidestepping the courts,”  said Tony Thedford, Craig’s attorney in the case. “On the basis of the investigative alert, the police went after [Craig] and put him through hell for a couple of years. I believe no judge would have ever issued a warrant for his arrest based on the weak information the police had.”

Just last year, the city settled another costly case involving investigative alerts with Kristina Brown, who was pulled over by officers Clinton Sebastian and Lynn Meuris. They were looking for a man waving a gun from his car in the same area that Brown was driving with her young children. 

Although Brown didn’t fit the description of the suspect, officers ordered her to get out of her car, searched under her shirt and pants, then handcuffed and placed her in their squad car with her pants down. 

The officers told Brown this was due to an investigative alert issued for an alleged misdemeanor from over a year before, according to the lawsuit. The statute of limitations of the prior alleged offense had ended, yet the alert was still in the system because the police had no formal process of removing investigative alerts. Brown was paid $33,500 by the city in the settlement. 

A tool needed to reduce crime? 

According to a 2018 CPD directive, the department has used two distinct types of investigative alerts: alerts with probable cause to arrest and alerts with no probable cause. 

The first type targets suspects wanted for arrest by detectives or organized crime personnel. An alert without probable cause to arrest is for someone who detectives want to interview about a committed crime but doesn’t give CPD cause to arrest anyone. 

The Chicago Tribune reported in 2013 that were at least 2,000 active alerts ordering someone’s arrest.

Most of the investigative alerts in the system are typically for homicides, shootings and other violent violations, according to CPD spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi.

However, Guglielmi said that all of the investigative alerts currently in the system have been suspended pending further action. The department has not set a direct course of action regarding the ruling. 

In light of the ruling, the Fraternal Order of Police published a blog post calling for the city to appeal. Although the state’s attorney’s office is planning to appeal the ruling, the blog attacked Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, accusing her of “egregious misconduct” and “turning her office into an ATM machine for law firms alleging constitutional violations by the police.” 

Police and the FOP have argued that investigative alerts help reduce crime and quickly allow officers to rely on each other’s knowledge and observations. 

But Hyman counters that investigative alerts do not provide more efficiency than search warrants. 

“An investigative alert is not a fast-acting response to an evolving scenario in the field. The system parallels the warrant system, in both the time it takes and the deliberation required … without the one safeguard that the framers of the Illinois Constitution found most important,” he wrote.  

Have you or someone you know been arrested due to an investigative alert? Share your story by emailing us at tcr@chicagoreporter.com.

Matt Kiefer, Josh McGhee, Asraa Mustufa and Elly Rivera contributed reporting.