CITY HALL — Questions over the amount of time police officers should wait before entering a home to execute a search warrant, what time of days such warrants should be executed and whether the city should codify search warrant policy were at the heart of discussion among aldermen on Tuesday.
Aldermen discussed details of the proposed Anjanette Young Ordinance, a proposal meant to rein in errant search warrants, during the Tuesday meeting of the City Council Committee on Public Safety. The ordinance was proposed in February by a group of Black alderwomen made up of Ald. Maria Hadden (49th), Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), Ald. Sophia King (4th), Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) and Ald. Stephanie Coleman (16th).
The alderwomen proposed the measure in response to the release of video showing the police department’s botched 2019 raid of Anjanette Young’s home while she stood unclothed, repeatedly telling officers they had the wrong home.
The proposal would eliminate so-called no-knock warrants and would require police officers to wait at least 30 seconds after knocking and announcing themselves before entering a home to execute a search warrant. Under the ordinance, officers would also be required to execute the search warrants in daylight between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m.
Responding to a question from Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), chair of the committee and a former Chicago police officer, Hadden said 30 seconds is a “reasonable time for someone to be able to actually stop what they’re doing and answer their door.”
Taliaferro said he understood Hadden’s point but that he is concerned about the possibility the intended target of the raid could escape or destroy evidence in the 30-second window. Waiting 30 seconds could also put officers in an unsafe situation, Taliaferro said.
“We’re looking at four officers in the month of May alone who were shot during execution of a warrant,” Taliaferro said.
Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st), also a former police officer, said he is “very against the timeframes” for executing search warrants the ordinance proposes.
“This is a criminal enterprise” that doesn’t “just operate during the daytime,” he said, referring to the component of the ordinance that would limit search warrant executions to daylight hours.
Additionally, the measure would toughen the process police officers must go through before obtaining search warrants and would require officers to “assess the credibility of informants, seek supplemental and corroborative information, and receive supervisory approval before obtaining any search warrant,” according to a February news release from its sponsors.
Stella Park, a researcher and law student at the University of Chicago, said proposals in the ordinance are “common sense” in requiring the police department to “get adequate information” and have “concrete plans” in advance of raids to “minimize unnecessary drama, and keep people safe, including police officers.”
The ordinance calls for the police department to establish procedures that mitigate harm to groups including children and people with disabilities who may be present during execution of a search warrant. The measure also calls for police to use the “least intrusive tactics” when performing a search warrant.
A main component of the proposal “restricts gun pointing at children and caretakers of children,” Park told aldermen on Tuesday.
Ald. Matt Martin (47th) asked why there isn’t “an outright prohibition on pointing firearms” at children.
Brian McDermott, chief of operations for the police department, said officers take a “sensitive approach when dealing with children” but there’s no “cookie cutter policy that would be good enough to say that we can never point a handgun” at children.
“I can’t tell you how many different situations that may come up where the officer may have to point a weapon at a child,” McDermott said. Those situations could include a child who is not listening to an officer’s commands who “may be reaching for something, and…God forbid it be a handgun and we’re not allowed to point a weapon at that child, we’re bringing the safety of our officers involved.”
But the effects of police raids can be felt by the city and those involved long after the search warrants are carried out, aldermen said.
The city spends “millions of dollars in wrongful raids,” and “young people can never get back their feeling of being safe and protected once a gun is pointed” at them, Taylor said during the hearing.
Families of those affected aren’t looking for a payout but want to see “real” change, Taylor added.
Debates over rulemaking process
Some aldermen on Tuesday also questioned the need for the City Council to codify police procedure in an ordinance, arguing it should be left up to the police department to tweak current practices and adopt new guidance as needed.
Chicago Police Supt. David Brown and Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced their own proposed changes to the department’s raid policies just days after the group of Black alderwomen introduced their ordinance. Proposed changes from Lightfoot and Brown included restricting the number of police leaders who can approve search warrants and requiring certain personnel to be on site during raids. They also charted out a process to hold officers accountable for botched warrant executions.
Lightfoot in May rebuked any proposal to codify search warrant policy under city ordinance, saying making the policies “static” law “would inhibit the ability of the department to respond nimbly to changing circumstances that might warrant some quicker action than what might be able to be done through City Council process.”
Brown and Lightfoot’s new search warrant policies took effect May 28, McDermott said Tuesday. Current policy also requires body-worn cameras to be worn and activated during search warrants and for officers to give residents a “reasonable opportunity to allow entry” before police enter their homes.
Ald. Daniel La Spata (1) noted that the department’s current search warrant policies were enacted by a special order and asked whether a superintendent or mayor could overturn that order.
McDermott told aldermen a policy change like that would likely have to go through the civilian oversight committee set up by the ordinance the City Council approved last week.
But Maira Khwaja, director of public strategy for The Invisible Institute, said it is the “City Council’s job within the city” to ensure procedures are followed.
“We definitely need every measure we possibly can take within our powers to ensure that we comply with the law,” Khwaja said.
Taliaferro, who mostly abstained from making public remarks on the recently passed civilian oversight ordinance, said he believes that police procedure should be set as part of a general order or special order within the police department and should be “policy rather than an ordinance.”
Still, Ald. Jason Ervin (28) said the police department’s search warrant policies are not consistent across the city.
“What is prohibiting us from having a dedicated search warrant team that operates citywide that does search warrants…like the mounted unit, all they do is ride horses,” Ervin said, adding it would bring “consistency” to the city’s search warrant process.
The lack of consistency surrounding the search warrant policy “plagues the city” and “leads to lawsuits,” Ervin said.
“When you are consistent and do something repeatedly and you train repeatedly, you tend to be better at it and have less error,” he said.
McDermott told Ervin a system of dedicated search warrant teams “is a priority of the superintendent,” as the city currently has “22 different methods” of search warrants across all the police districts. The department is currently looking at “best practices across the country” and has not yet decided whether it would need a citywide team or area teams, he said.