More than $300 million seized by law enforcement over a decade – without requiring any conviction

CHICAGO – During the decade between 2005 and 2015, law enforcement in Illinois took more than $319 million in property and cash from individuals, using a system that did not require criminal charges being filed against anyone, let alone a conviction, to justify the seizure. The data and background on the use of asset forfeiture is contained in a new report issued jointly today by the Illinois Policy Institute and the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. In addition to detailing abuses of the system, the report contains a series of policy recommendations that legislators can follow to reform the system in order to make it fairer and more transparent.

Illinois laws shouldn't let the government permanently take property from a person who has never been convicted or even charged with a crime.” said Ted Dabrowski, vice president of policy at the Illinois Policy Institute. “Innocent people shouldn't have to live under the fear of this system. It's not fair.”

“Asset forfeiture in Illinois has become policing for profit,” added Ben Ruddell, criminal justice policy attorney at the ACLU and co-author of the report. “Without meaningful reform that insures transparency, this system will continue to take millions of dollars in property from people without true justice.”

Asset forfeiture is the permanent confiscation of private property by law enforcement agencies. Under current Illinois and federal law, law enforcement agencies can take cash, land, vehicles and other property they suspect is involved in illegal activity. But those laws do not require that someone is convicted – or even charged – with a crime in order to lose their property permanently.

The report details the lucrative financial incentives for law enforcement to vigorously pursue asset forfeiture, garnering as much as $30 million each year for over a decade, while there is little or no control on how law enforcement spends the gains. The report makes clear that that most asset seizures take place in Cook County, followed by Lake, Will, Rock Island, Macon and Winnebago counties. But many additional forfeitures occur throughout Illinois.

The Illinois Policy Institute and ACLU are calling on the Illinois General Assembly to adopt critical reforms to the asset forfeiture system, including:

  • Make the forfeiture process fairer to property owners;
  • Removing incentives to engage in “policing for profit;” and,
  • Increasing transparency about how forfeiture funds are acquired and used.

“The General Assembly should move quickly to reform this system. Tens of millions of dollars are taken by Illinois law enforcement every year, with few protections for the innocent and little transparency in how these funds are acquired or spent," added Ted Dabrowski of the Illinois Policy Institute.

“This report should serve as a wake-up call for all legislators who have not been aware that this system is operating in this fashion,” added the ACLU’s Ruddell.