Sweeping Changes Announced to CPD’s Search Warrant Policy

Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot and Chicago Police Department (CPD) Superintendent David O. Brown announced a series of draft changes to the policy and procedures around obtaining and serving search warrants. These wide-ranging policy revisions will help to prevent wrong raids, ensure that search warrants are carried out with a respect for human dignity, and guarantee accountability and transparency following wrong raids. The new search warrant policy, which is open for public comment today, is the product of a top-to-bottom review ordered by Superintendent Brown in December, and builds on Mayor Lightfoot’s ongoing efforts to ensure transparency and accountability following the events that took place at Anjanette Young’s home and the City’s subsequent actions.

“The reforms to CPD’s search warrant policy follow a detailed, comprehensive and above all transparent process which build upon our ongoing efforts to ensure Chicago’s values of accountability and fundamental human dignity are respected and preserved,” said Mayor Lightfoot. “What Ms. Young experienced served as an abrupt wake up call to our entire city to the reforms our city needs and our values demand. Every step we have taken and we continue to take will be with that goal in mind.”

This new series of reforms to CPD’s search warrant policy represent the second round of policy revisions under Mayor Lightfoot’s leadership. In January 2020, CPD instituted a series of meaningful reforms that, for the first time, required body-worn cameras to be activated during the execution of search warrants and required complaint logs following raids at incorrect addresses. Today’s announcement greatly expands Mayor Lightfoot’s commitment to reform and establishes CPD as a national leader on search warrant reform and accountability.

“The work of the Chicago Police Department should reflect the values of the people who live in this great city,” said Superintendent David O. Brown. “Today, CPD makes good on its promise to implement change, because it is always the right time to do the right thing.”

The new draft policy announced today will prevent wrong raids and ensure accountability with a number of reforms that will change procedures before, during and after the execution of a search warrant:

Prior to the Execution of a Search Warrant

In line with CPD and the Mayor’s Office’s ongoing work to prevent circumstances that could result in “wrong” raids, a number of changes have been made to the process that is required prior to the approval or execution of a search warrant. Under the new policy changes:

  • All search warrants will now have to be approved by a deputy chief or higher, which is three ranks above the previous requirement of lieutenant approval.
  •  All “No-Knock” warrants will be banned from use by CPD except in specific cases where lives or safety are in danger. Additionally, these “No-Knock” warrants will now need approval from a bureau chief or higher, and will only be served by SWAT, rather than the team or officer who obtained and sought approval for the warrant.
  •  Prior to the service of any search warrant, the team who will be serving a warrant will now be required to conduct a planning session wherein they identify any potentially vulnerable people who may be present at the location in question, including children.
  •  In an effort to eliminate the possibilities of “wrong” raids, all warrants, both standard and “No-Knock”, will now require an independent investigation prior to the approval and execution of the warrant that will verify and corroborate that the information used to obtain the warrant is accurate.

 During the Execution of a Search Warrant

The specific behavior, actions and conduct of officers during the serving of a warrant is of critical importance to CPD, and as such there are several new measures included in this revision that will minimize traumatic interactions between officers and residents. Under the new policy changes:

  •  A female officer is now required to be present for the serving of all search warrants.
  • A lieutenant or higher must be present and in command of the scene for the serving of any warrant, as opposed to the previous requirement that a sergeant be present.
  • In aligning with preexisting policy, officers will also be required to document any and all instances in which a firearm is pointed at any person.

After the Execution of a Search Warrant

These new reforms also seek to create more accountability following the execution of a search warrant, to help ensure that any potential “wrong” raid is properly accounted for and investigated. Under the new policy:

  •  Any search warrant that is served at a wrong address OR where the information used to obtain the warrant turns out to be false will be considered a wrong raid.
  • A complaint log number will be required for submitting false reports or for all wrong raids, including those in which search warrant is served at a wrong address OR where the information used to obtain the warrant turns out to be false
  • Additionally, CPD will now conduct a critical incident after-action review for all wrong raids

“The City of Chicago is committed to public safety policies that prioritize human dignity and accountability,” said Chris Taliaferro, 29th Ward Alderman and Chairman of the Committee on Public Safety. “These draft policy changes establish CPD as a national leader on search warrant reform and show the community that we are serious about reform and responsibility.”

CPD is committed to providing members of the community and its officers meaningful opportunities to review, comment on and provide feedback related to revisions to or newly proposed CPD policies and procedures. In keeping with this goal, the new policy has been posted on CPD’s website and will be available for public review for 15 days. Once the comment period is complete, CPD is committed to reviewing the submitted comments and will identify any concerns that may require further review or be addressed though further revisions to the draft polices.

The draft policy changes released today are the next step in the Mayor’s commitment to reform. On Feb. 5, Mayor Lightfoot signed an Executive Order to create the first City guidelines governing the release of materials directly to subjects of alleged police misconduct. Effective March 7, complainants that have filed a complaint with the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) alleging police misconduct in which they were the subject of the incident will be able to receive materials directly from the City within 30 days of their request.

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