This story was originally published by ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power, and the Chicago Tribune. Sign up for Dispatches, a newsletter that spotlights wrongdoing around the country, to receive ProPublica’s stories in your inbox every week.
CHICAGO — Each time he stood before a Chicago traffic court judge and told his story, the judge asked his name.
“Jeffrey Kriv,” he’d say. That was true.
Then he’d raise his right hand and get sworn in. What came next was also consistent.
“Well, that morning, I broke up with my girlfriend and she stole my car,” Kriv, who had been ticketed for running a red light, testified in January 2021.
“Yeah, I broke up with my girlfriend earlier that morning, had a knock-down, drag-out fight, verbally, of course. She took my car without my knowledge,” he told a different judge when fighting a speeding ticket in August 2021.
“I broke up with my girlfriend that day and she took my car without my knowledge. … I didn’t get my car back for like three days. But it was her driving the car,” he said while contesting a speeding ticket, once again under oath, in May 2022.
The excuse worked, just as it had many times before.
At the ticket hearings, Kriv often provided what he said were legitimate police incident reports as evidence of the car thefts; they had officer names and badge numbers, and he explained that he got the reports at police headquarters.
But Kriv did not let on that he, himself, was a Chicago cop.
As bold as he was when fighting his tickets, he was equally brazen in his professional life. He attracted a remarkable number of complaints from citizens he encountered — and even from other officers. And just as he did in his personal life, he defended himself vigorously against the allegations.
Kriv doesn’t register as one of Chicago’s most notorious corrupt cops — those who tortured suspects for confessions or shook down drug dealers. But his on-duty conduct regularly flouted rules and disrupted lives. Once, he punched a handcuffed man in the back of his patrol car, records show.
But given Chicago’s long-standing and dramatic shortcomings in police discipline, none of his on-duty misconduct cost him his badge and gun.
It took a tip to an outside agency and questions about Kriv’s testimony as a private citizen in traffic court to unravel his career.
A spokesperson for the Chicago Police Department would not comment for this story or answer any questions.
A lawyer for Kriv, informed of the reporting by ProPublica and the Chicago Tribune, said “many of the facts you compose are incomplete or not true,” though he did not say what was inaccurate. The lawyer, Tim Grace, said that Kriv had received nearly 150 commendations and recognitions and had earned two awards for saving lives.
“Officer Kriv has served his city with honor for over 25-plus years,” Grace said.
Listen to Former Chicago Police Officer Jeffrey Kriv Try to Avoid Traffic Fines by Repeatedly Claiming His Ex-Girlfriend Stole His Car
His Troubles Began Almost Immediately
In 1996, Kriv was sworn in as a Chicago police officer. The first complaint about him came about eight months later, while Kriv was still a probationary hire. A man said Kriv broke his car window with a flashlight while directing traffic; Kriv was not disciplined in that incident.
Supervisors reprimanded him a few months later, however, after Kriv failed to notice there was a marijuana cigarette on the back seat of his squad car.
But there was more to come, records show: being rude, offensive or physically abusive; flipping someone off; and writing in a police report that one woman was “white trash” and a “raving lunatic.”
He was held in contempt of court and arrested after he flung papers into the air and called the judge’s ruling “a joke.” He apologized in court the next day, and the contempt charge was vacated. An assistant deputy superintendent recommended against removing his police powers after the incident, records show. In another case, a different judge ordered him removed from a courtroom after he wouldn’t stop talking.
Most officers face only a handful of complaints over the course of their careers. But at least 92 misconduct complaints were filed against Kriv, according to city and police disciplinary records compiled and analyzed by the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica. Even more exceptional: About 28% of complaints against Kriv were found to have merit, compared with about 4% of complaints against all Chicago police officers going back decades.
In 2005, after a city Streets and Sanitation Department employee towed his illegally parked personal car, Kriv sent a letter via the city’s interoffice mail system threatening to ticket the cars of Streets and Sanitation workers in retaliation. He was suspended for 20 days. In 2006, he left the scene of a vehicle fire he had responded to, removed the numbers that identified his squad car and went into a strip club to visit a waitress, according to internal police investigation records. He was issued a 90-day suspension that was later knocked down to 45 days.
In 2009, Kriv was accused of punching a woman whom he’d arrested after seeing her arguing with her husband on the street. The woman was found not guilty at trial on charges of domestic battery and resisting arrest.
“I had to have surgery. I had to have plastic implanted under my eye because of this,” said Jessie Wangeman, who lives in Indianapolis. “My face is not symmetrical anymore. He really messed me up on the outside. And inside it was a really traumatic experience.”
Wangeman sued Kriv and the city of Chicago over the encounter; the city paid her $100,000 to settle in 2011. Wangeman declined to talk with investigators looking into Kriv’s alleged misconduct, and Kriv wasn’t disciplined.
Meanwhile, Kriv’s personal vehicles — a BMW sedan and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle — were ticketed 22 times between 2008 and 2013. He paid some of those tickets, records show.
At a traffic court hearing in December 2013, Kriv used the girlfriend alibi for the first time, authorities now allege.
“May I ask you why you’re contesting this ticket, Mr. Kriv?” the judge asked.
“Yes, my ex-girlfriend, well, took my car two days prior after I broke up with her. I filed a police report that it was stolen and they recovered it approximately a week after the fact,” he testified. “Here’s the police report that was done. I did have her arrested approximately three weeks ago and I got a court date coming up in January.”
The judge reviewed the report and dismissed the ticket.
False Statements and False Arrests
Kriv was investigated at least 26 times over allegations of dishonesty as a police officer. That included accusations of falsifying records, writing unwarranted tickets, performing improper searches, making false arrests.
One man accused Kriv of writing him false parking citations. A woman complained that Kriv issued her eight baseless citations in two weeks while her vehicle was parked in an assigned space on private property. And another man made two other complaints accusing Kriv of repeatedly writing tickets to him at his business as a way to harass him. Department investigators concluded that Kriv wrote unwarranted tickets to that man; investigations into the other allegations could not be pursued because the accusers did not sign formal complaints.
As a cop, Kriv’s specialty was DUI enforcement. He made more DUI arrests in Chicago than any other officer in 2021, and he topped the list statewide the same year, according to one anti-drunken-driving group.
But one woman sued him over her 2015 drunken driving arrest after she was acquitted at trial. The lawsuit alleged that Kriv falsely arrested her and made false statements against her. Kriv denied the allegations.
“He would lie under oath for a piece of bubble gum,” the woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation from Kriv, told a reporter.
The woman later dropped the lawsuit because she said Kriv was disparaging and intimidating her.
Even outside of his job and his chutzpah in traffic court, Kriv’s history is notable.
While Kriv was growing up in Highland Park, his father, an attorney, funded a messy fraud scheme, survived an assassination attempt meant to silence him about it, and was sent to federal prison for a second fraud racket that involved sending falsified accident claims through the mail, according to court records at the National Archives. Kriv’s father testified at trial in the first fraud case and did not face charges for his role in that scheme.
Kriv then attended the University of Iowa for six years. A university spokesperson said he never graduated — though he claimed that he had in an application for another city job in 2013. Kriv’s attorney did not respond to a question about his educational history.
When Kriv was in his late 20s, the unemployment insurance division of the Illinois attorney general’s office sued him to recoup about $3,800 in benefits for which the government claimed he wasn’t eligible, records show. Details about what led to the attorney general’s claim are missing from court files, and there’s no public record of how it was resolved.
Neither the Police Department nor the city’s human resources division could locate Kriv’s initial application to the Police Department, so it’s unclear how much hiring officials knew about his background.
It’s also unclear whether the department knew how often Kriv was being ticketed for traffic violations — nine times in 2014 alone, records show. He got all of those tickets dismissed, including a speeding ticket issued in the fall for going 21 miles an hour over the speed limit near a school.
“My ex-girlfriend stole my car,” Kriv told the judge. “There is this police report over here that was done and, a matter of fact, I had another ticket I contested last week … another speed camera.
“They only charged her with trespassing because it was my girlfriend. She stole my key and racked up all these tickets here.”
The judge reviewed the report and dismissed the ticket.
When Other Cops Complained
Kriv’s conduct as a cop stands out in yet another way: Even other cops complained about him.
Internal affairs records show that a police lieutenant filed a complaint against Kriv in 2016 accusing Kriv of failing to arrest an off-duty sergeant who was involved in a crash, even though the sergeant was unsteady, was slurring his speech and had urinated in his pants — “wasted,” according to a police report. Kriv was suspended for 15 days for violating five department rules in that incident.
His police partner once reported that he made her get out of their squad car after an argument, forcing her to walk more than a half-mile back to their station. Investigators concluded there wasn’t enough evidence in that case to discipline Kriv.
In 2014, supervisors — including the head of the DUI task force that Kriv was on — filed a complaint against Kriv alleging that he disobeyed commands from a higher-ranking officer and impounded a car without justification after a traffic crash.
Over the other officers’ objections, Kriv declared that the driver of the car involved in the crash was drunk, handcuffed him, and put him in the back of his squad car, according to accounts from the driver, Jaime Garcia, and other officers. He also ordered Garcia’s Nissan Altima towed and impounded.
“He kept telling me, ‘I know you’re drunk, I know you’re drunk.’ I didn’t know what to do, I was in shock, I was scared,” Garcia said in an interview.
The officers on the scene filed the complaint against Kriv.
“For some reason, he was trying to put a false arrest on this guy. I apologized to him, said, ‘Sorry you had to go through this.’ I told him about filing a complaint,” said retired Lt. David Blanco, the supervisor that night. After its investigation, the department acknowledged Kriv was wrong to have impounded Garcia’s car, knowing there would be no DUI charges against him.
Kriv ultimately wasn’t disciplined for his behavior that night, once again benefiting from the Police Department’s feeble accountability system, which has long been marked by delays, red tape and lax punishment.
Though he regularly escaped punishment altogether for alleged misconduct on the job, in some cases, he was reprimanded or received suspensions of between one and 45 days. The department suspended Kriv at least 20 times for 170 days total, according to a Tribune-ProPublica analysis of his disciplinary records.
One citizen told the investigating agency that Kriv was unconcerned when he threatened to file a complaint. Kriv, the man said, told him that complaints “are not going to go anywhere,” no matter how many an officer was facing. The man’s complaint was closed after he declined to participate in the investigation.
Kriv appealed disciplinary decisions at least eight times over his career, including through the department’s grievance system. A 2017 investigation by the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica found that 85% of disciplinary cases handled through the department’s grievance process since 2010 had led to officers receiving shorter suspensions or, in many cases, having their punishments overturned entirely.
“It doesn’t hurt to grieve it. Why wouldn’t I?” Kriv told the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica for that story.
Kriv got a five-day suspension reduced to a reprimand, another five-day suspension reduced to two days, and a 90-day suspension — for going to the strip club while on duty — cut in half.
“It sounds to me like several of these cases — each of them standing on its own, independently — should have triggered a discharge case,” said Mark Iris, who until 2004 was the executive director of the Chicago Police Board, the civilian body that decides disciplinary cases involving Chicago officers. He also studied the use of mathematical analysis to prevent police misconduct and taught at Northwestern University.
“The unit commanders had to have known this guy was a headache,” Iris said in an interview.
Records show the department never tried to fire Kriv.
Blanco, like many of the people Kriv encountered, said he doesn’t get how Kriv remained on the force.
“That’s what I couldn’t understand — with all the suspensions, why they didn’t get rid of this guy. There’s obviously a red light flashing over this guy’s head,” Blanco told ProPublica and the Tribune.
During Kriv’s career, the Chicago Police Department had eight superintendents, three iterations of an independent police investigation body and at least two versions of an internal affairs division. The Police Department has stalled on at least two attempts to implement an early-warning system to spot problem behavior.
In its 2019 consent decree with the Justice Department, the Police Department agreed to develop a system to identify officers at risk of misconduct, alert their supervisors and provide training. That system still has not been implemented, according to the latest consent decree update.
In addition, for most of Kriv’s career, the police union’s contract with the department allowed investigators to consider only the most recent five years of an officer’s disciplinary history. (The current union contract eliminates that requirement). That meant that even officers with extensive histories of misconduct could have looked problem-free when department leaders weighed discipline options.
As a result, when investigators in 2013 looked into a complaint against Kriv, his recent disciplinary history was clean, so they proceeded as if he’d never been disciplined. The truth was that, by then, he had been suspended or reprimanded for at least 15 different incidents, but the most recent complaints were more than five years old or didn’t appear on his record yet because they were still under investigation.
As Kriv successfully appealed Police Department discipline, he also was successfully beating more and more traffic tickets.
From 2015 through mid-2022, Kriv got 51 tickets but paid only two.
Other tickets — issued for reasons including exceeding the speed limit by at least 11 miles an hour, running red lights, blocking an area and parking where he shouldn’t — were dismissed.
He got some tickets dismissed by making technical arguments — claiming a ticket wasn’t filled out properly, for example — but most were dismissed after he blamed his girlfriend, records show.
Kriv contested tickets using that defense before at least 23 different judges. Sometimes he went before the same judge with the same story, but those appearances were typically years apart.
At a hearing in 2018, he tried to get out of a speeding ticket issued in a school zone.
“My girlfriend and I got in an argument that morning,” he told the judge. “We broke up. She took my fob and she took my car and I do have a police report.”
“I didn’t get it back until later that night around 9 o’clock. And I did have her arrested about a week later. We went to her workplace, but here’s a copy of the police report.”
The judge reviewed the report and dismissed the ticket.
‘The System’s Like a Joke’
Citywide, it’s rare for people to succeed in getting their tickets dismissed. In a typical year, the city issues about 1 million automated-camera tickets for speeding and red-light violations. People contest about 4% of those tickets, and about 1 in 10 win, according to an analysis of city ticket data.
There’s no indication the Police Department knew how often Kriv was contesting his tickets in court. There’s also no indication in records that the girlfriend he used as his alibi was real.
Last year, the city’s Office of Inspector General received a tip to look at Kriv — not for his work in uniform, but for a potentially fraudulent defense of a parking ticket he had received, records show.
The OIG followed that tip and concluded that Kriv had provided false testimony and fraudulent documentation related to parking and traffic violations since 2009, according to prosecutors. Since 2013, he had contested 44 tickets by saying his girlfriend had stolen his car. All 44 had been dismissed.
The office notified the Police Department that it was investigating Kriv.
The Cook County state’s attorney’s office in October barred Kriv from testifying in court as a witness, placing him on a list of police officers whose truthfulness is in question. Nonetheless, the police department kept him on the streets and he continued to write tickets and make DUI arrests.
The final time Kriv took an oath to tell the truth and then blamed his girlfriend for a speeding ticket was in September of 2022, records show. Once again, the story worked.
“Well, I had her arrested,” Kriv said when the judge asked what happened to the woman. “They charged her with a misdemeanor trespassing to a vehicle. That pretty much went nowhere.
“She got, like, three months’ supervision or something like that. It’s kind of a, I don’t want to say the system’s like a joke, but it didn’t really do anything.”
As Kriv, who is 56, was defending himself in traffic court last year, he also was eyeing retirement, going back and forth with the Policemen’s Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago to sort out his pension benefits. He was told he’d gain another year of seniority — and a larger pension — if he stayed on the force until Jan. 15.
On Jan. 12, the department collected his badge and stripped him of police powers.
On Jan. 14, Kriv got another speeding ticket.
On Jan. 17, Kriv retired.
The next day, Kriv’s car was ticketed again for speeding.
On Jan. 31, Cook County prosecutors charged Kriv with four counts of perjury and five counts of forgery, all of them felonies, for allegedly lying to judges under oath and providing fictitious police reports in four traffic ticket cases.
The girlfriend story, prosecutors allege, was fake. Prosecutors calculated that, by getting out of 44 tickets, Kriv saved himself $3,665.
The state’s attorney’s office declined to comment about its case against Kriv.
Kriv emailed the pension board the day after he was charged and released on $10,000 bond, writing: “When do I start getting my pension checks and does it come bi-weekly or once a month?” His pension started at about $6,000 a month, according to the board.
Deborah Witzburg, the inspector general whose office helped build the case against Kriv, declined to comment for this story. In a news release about the charges, she said: “The truthfulness and credibility of police officers is foundational to the fair administration of justice, and to CPD’s effectiveness as a law enforcement agency.”
Grace, Kriv’s attorney, noted that the criminal charges are not related to his duties as a police officer. “He understands the importance of accountability by all citizens when it comes to paying his outstanding tickets and looks forward to resolving this matter by making good on any oversights he may have,” Grace said.
In late March, a Cook County judge called out, “Jeffrey Kriv,” and the former officer stepped forward to be arraigned. He pleaded not guilty. Each offense is punishable by up to five years in prison.
When reached by phone, Kriv said he didn’t want to talk because “nobody gets a fair shake with the media” and his attorney had advised him not to say anything.
“When it is all said and done, this will be dismissed,” he said. “There is nothing to it.”
Kriv got three more speeding tickets soon after he retired in mid-January. He didn’t contest any of them, and he paid the fines.
Then he got three more speeding tickets.