By Tim Cushing
The Chicago Police Department has firmly established itself as one of the worst police forces in America. From running an off-the-books, Constitution-evading “black site” to interrogate detainees without bringing in their lawyers or rights to loading up its gang database with thousands of non-gang members, the department is a horrific mess.
The basic duty of warrant service is similarly infected by the PD’s lackadaisical attitude towards the rights of the people they serve. An investigation into search warrants by a local CBS affiliate found that an alarming amount of drug related search warrants fail to turn up any drugs. The report [PDF] — which examines several thousand warrants executed by the PD — shows that, far too often, there’s nothing illegal going on in the residences the PD chooses to raid.
Total search warrants where property recovered: 6,067 (88.5% of the time) Total search warrants where guns were found: 1,992 (29% of the time) Total search warrants where drugs were turned over: 286 (4% of the time) Search warrants where an arrest was made: 3,931 (57% of the time) Search warrants where no arrest was made: 2,924 (Nearly 43% of the time) Search warrants that were completely negative (no arrest, no guns or property recovered): 679 (nearly 10%, or 1 in 10 search warrants were negative)
Almost half the time, the only result of a house search is a destroyed house. If officers decide they don’t need to destroy the door (and windows or whatever) on their way in, tossing a house leaves it in complete disarray. When officers are wrong, it’s the citizens who pay. And for all the claims that drugs are contributing to Chicago’s spike in violent crime, drugs are so rarely found officers could achieve the same success rate by raiding random houses, rather than those they’ve bothered to copy-paste affidavit boilerplate about.
Eliminating non-drug related search warrants doesn’t make anything any better. 72% of warrants detailed in this report were drug related. But the increase in drugs recovered doesn’t even amount to a rounding error.
Out of the 4,921, drugs were turned over in 221 cases. That’s 4.4% of the time.
Given this hit rate, there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot of probable cause supporting these warrants. So why do they keep getting approved? Because officers know which judges to approach to get an affidavit rubber-stamped.
In Cook County, approximately 70 judges can approve search warrants, according to the Cook County Chief Judge’s Office.[Judge Mauricio] Araujo signed off on more search warrants in Chicago than any other judge in a three-year period, according to police search warrant data analyzed by CBS 2. More than 1,166 search warrants listed his name as the judge.
Judge Araujo’s relationships with PD officers certainly makes any claims of impartiality suspect.
Araujo had signed warrants for two former officers, David Salgado and Xavier Elizondo, who used the warrants to raid and rob people. The officers were later convicted.
Araujo described to the FBI his relationship with Salgado as “more than an acquaintance, but not quite a friend,” the Chicago Tribune reported, adding Araujo had attended multiple events with Salgado, including the wake for Salgado’s mother, the officer’s bachelor party in Colombia and his wedding in 2017.
Two things have changed which make Judge Araujo less of a threat to people’s civil liberties. Policy changes in the court system randomized judge selection for warrant approval, partially preventing officers from going to the most compliant judges. Second, Judge Araujo resigned in September after the state’s judicial commission ruled there was “clear and convincing evidence” Araujo had sexually harassed female police officers and county attorneys.
That won’t undo the damage done by cops acting with almost zero judicial restraint. It might prevent some damage in the future. Police officers may not be able to engage in the hard work of internal reform, but they’re pretty good at finding loopholes that allow them to act the way they want to. But they can’t ignore the facts: Chicago’s local drug warriors are rarely racking up wins in the War on Drugs. And judges who won’t demand more from officers and their sworn statements are just making the problem worse.