Investigative alerts allow Chicago police to make false arrests without warrants or probable cause

by Sami Azhari on March 6, 2013

Investigative Alert Arrest

With the help of local media, the public is learning more about a dubious practice by the Chicago Police Department of making warrantless arrests based on questionable information.

The Tribune reported the story of Frank Craig, an Army veteran who sued the City of Chicago for his arrest in 2006. Police officers arrested him inside his residence without a warrant, but justified the arrest on the basis of an ‘investigative alert.’

Craig filed a civil rights lawsuit and reached a settlement with the City of $570,000 in 2011.

The use of investigative alerts is legally questionable at best, and a flagrant violation of the constitution at worst. Anyone who was arrested pursuant to an investigative alert may have a cause of action against the City of Chicago and the arresting officers for violation of his civil rights under 42 USC 1983.

The investigative alert is an intra-department notice that police officers rely on to take someone into custody. It is not an arrest warrant. Rather, it is a administrative order to arrest a person based on information that they were involved in a crime at some point in time.

An arrest warrant is obtained through a judge. In order to get one, a police officer would submit an application along with a sworn statement and the judge would review it for probable cause. If the judge finds probable cause, an arrest warrant is issued.

But an investigative alert completely bypasses the legal procedure for obtaining an arrest warrant. There is no application, no sworn statement, and no judge looking for facts that constitute probable cause. Instead, the police issue the alert and any officer who finds the suspect is ordered to take him into custody.

The Chicago Police Department is estimated to have more than 2,000 investigative alerts outstanding that would direct its officers to arrest a person. Under special order, the Chicago police have two forms of investigative alerts:

  1. Investigative Alert / Probable Cause to Arrest
  2. Investigative Alert / No Probable Cause to Arrest

See Chicago Police Department Special Order S04-16.

The names themselves are misleading because no judge has made a legal finding of probable cause. Instead, it was the police who made that determination independently. While the use of investigative alerts was in practice before the current special order, this order issued March 6, 2001 changed the name from ‘stop order’ to investigative alert, most likely to deflect the accusation that it is an order to arrest. Download CDP Special Order S04-16.

The investigative alert commands the officer to do the following:

Officers who run name checks on individuals who have an Investigative Alert / Probable Cause to Arrest on file will:

a. take the subject into custody if not already in custody.

b. process the arrestee in accordance with the procedures outlined in the Department directive entitled “Processing Persons Under Department Control.” Indicate on the Arrest Report (CPD-11.420) that the arrestee is the subject of an Investigative Alert / Probable Cause to Arrest.

See CPD Special Order S04-16.

As it stands, the investigative alert is a violation of the state constitution (Article I, Section 6) and federal constitution (4th Amendment), which both require a warrant based on probable cause to arrest. Basically, the only circumstance in which an arrest is legal without a warrant is when the police observe the suspect commit a crime. But investigative alerts concern alleged crimes that took place months and years earlier. They lie dormant in the Chicago police database until that person or someone matching his description is encountered by an officer.

The Illinois Code of Criminal Procedure would also ban an arrest made pursuant to an investigative alert:

Sec. 107-2. Arrest by Peace Officer.

(1) A peace officer may arrest a person when:

(a) He has a warrant commanding that such person be arrested; or

(b) He has reasonable grounds to believe that a warrant for the person’s arrest has been issued in this State or in another jurisdiction; or

(c) He has reasonable grounds to believe that the person is committing or has committed an offense.

See 725 ILCS 5/107-2.

Prosecutors have argued that investigative alerts give the police officer ‘reasonable grounds to believe that the person has committed an offense.’ But the alerts do not provide probable cause or even reasonable grounds. The information is old and vague. If the arresting officer were to make an application for a warrant based on the information in an investigative alert, the judge would deny it.

These alerts are so often criticized that the Federal Bureau of Investigation does not even include them in its nationwide fugitive database.

The victim of an investigative alert should consult with counsel about an action for false arrest and false imprisonment. Such an arrest is a violation of constitutional rights guaranteed by the 4th Amendment of the US Constitution, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.

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