An Illinois civil rights group says the practice of seizing property suspected of being connected to a crime needs to be reined in.
When someone is arrested and accused of a crime, assets suspected of being connected with the alleged crime can be seized. That money is then distributed to law enforcement. American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois Criminal Justice Policy Attorney Ben Ruddell said civil asset forfeiture feeds a vicious cycle of “more stops, more seizures, more forfeitures, more injustice.”
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Ruddell said the system provides a perverse incentive to police for profit and assets should only be seized when someone is convicted of a crime.
Terry Lemming is the police chief for Lockport. He’s also the president of the Illinois Drug Enforcement Officers Association. Lemming said the public can’t have it both ways.
“If you relax the drug laws and you relax the asset forfeiture laws, you have to accept the higher crime rate,” Lemming said.
There’s a way to get back seized property, but Ruddell said it’s difficult and expensive.
Lemming said in most cases, people don’t seek to reclaim their seized assets.
“They get due process. We’ll tell them there’s going to be a hearing on this date, please bring any receipts that you have, bring any proof that it’s yours, and you’ll get it back, but rarely do we see anybody come to court on a civil seizure,” Lemming said.
Lemming said asset forfeiture takes some of the burden of funding law enforcement away from taxpayers.
The ACLU of Illinois said through open records requests the organization found the total assets seized by the Illinois State Police amounted to more than $72 million in 2014 and 2015. That doesn’t include assets seized by local law enforcement.