A new study says Illinois law enforcement is seizing hundreds of millions of dollars of property belonging to citizens suspected, but not necessarily convicted, of a crime.
A joint study by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois and the Illinois Policy Institute shows law enforcement agencies have seized $319 million from citizens from 2005 to 2015. In Illinois, people don’t need to be convicted of a crime to have their property seized, a practice typically known as civil asset forfeiture.
ACLU criminal justice policy attorney Ben Ruddell says the number is likely much higher since reporting forfeiture statistics is not required by Illinois law. “That $319 million is a conservative figure that we know doesn’t cover the full picture here,” he said.
Typically, seized property goes back to the law enforcement agency that seizes it. Ruddell adds that this creates an incentive for law enforcement to seize more property to boost their budgets.
The study states that automobiles are the most common type of seizure. “Your life can fall apart during that period of time without that transportation,” Ruddell said. “You can lose your job. There is a whole cascade of consequences that can transpire from that.”
Ruddell said the law needs to be changed to remove the monetary incentive to seizing property by, for instance, diverting the proceeds to a state revenue fund. Also, he said the state needs to strengthen the owners right to retrieve their property.
“The burden of proof needs to be where it belongs — with the government to prove that there was a crime before they can take it away.”
A poll conducted by the Illinois Policy Institute showed 89 percent of the 500 registered voters surveyed oppose police being allowed to seize property from people not convicted of a crime.
The Rock Island Police Department led the state with 39 forfeitures per 10,000 residents, followed by the Decatur Police Department with 23.6.
Representatives from the Illinois Association of Police Chiefs or the Illinois State Police were not immediately available for comment.
–Illinois News Network