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Warrantless Warrants and Crooked Courts in Chicago

Recent media coverage of police brutality and other flagrant violations of civilians’ rights has offered numerous candidates for the dubious distinction of worst law enforcement agency in the U.S. The competition is stiff, but an investigation by CBS2 in Chicago suggests their police department should be a front runner.

The report looked into nearly 7,000 search warrants conducted by the Chicago PD. Despite claims that illegal narcotics are a driving force in the city’s crime rate, drugs were found in just 4% of the resulting searches. Even if only the warrants that were allegedly drug-related are considered, drugs were actually seized in a mere 221 cases out of 4,921—a rate of 4.4%.

The data suggest that the vast majority of search warrants in these cases lack probable cause, and it would be just as effective to send cops storming into randomly selected houses. While taxpayers should be concerned about the potential of lawsuits for such blatant disregard of civil rights, a more immediate issue for those targeted is that law enforcement has no liability for their actions. Whereas about 10% of the search warrants executed in Chicago utterly lacked any positive result (no drugs, property, or guns seized or arrests made), the residents were left with a destroyed home in almost every incident. According to Techdirt, the sole result of about half of police searches is property damage, yet the civilian targets are left with 100% of the bill 100% of the time.

It is not only law enforcement that should be taken to task for excessive and causeless searches but judges who typically give automatic approval to virtually every warrant that comes before them. Around 70 judges in Cook County have the authority to authorize searches, yet CBS2’s investigation showed vast discrepancies among them in the number of warrants approved. One in particular, Judge Mauricio Araujo, rubber-stamped over 1,100 search warrants in a three-year span—more than any of his colleagues during that time. The seemingly disproportionate number of approvals is troubling, even more so in light of the fact that two cops for whom Araujo signed off on a number of warrants were convicted of using them to rob people.

Judge Araujo left his position in September 2020 after facing “clear and convincing evidence” he had sexually harassed several women. The Chicago court system has also begun randomizing the warrant approval process to stop cops from seeking out judges who are viewed as an automatic “yes.” While these small changes may do much to reduce the scope of future damages, they afford the people of Chicago no compensation for the wrongs of the past. 



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