On a May evening in 2006, Frank Craig was a few hours away from a better life for his family of five.
Court records show that the Army veteran was set to start a new job with the state, with solid pay and benefits, until Chicago police hauled him out of his house in his boxer shorts.
No judge had signed a warrant for Craig’s arrest. Instead, police themselves had issued an “investigative alert” ordering Craig’s arrest for a robbery that occurred four months earlier.
The alert was based on detective work later judged so shoddy that it led to taxpayers reimbursing the innocent man half a million dollars for a false arrest that caused him to lose his job and the family home to foreclosure.
The false-arrest case — settled in December 2011 — spotlighted an increasingly controversial policy in Chicago that carries the risk of both hurting the innocent and helping the guilty.
Critics say the internal police alerts, absent a bona fide warrant, sidestep constitutional protections. Officers act like judges, critics argue, in a process so open to abuse that the police-issued alerts are rarely allowed into the FBI’s fugitive database used by police across the country.
An Illinois appellate judge who was once a police officer recently called for alerts to be banned.
“It’s so easy for (police) to get a warrant. They should just do it right,” said that judge, Marcus Salone.
It’s unclear how often Chicago police pick alerts over warrants, but as of the most recent count, there were at least 2,000 active alerts ordering someone’s arrest — about a fourth for serious, violent crimes.