A new study from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Illinois Policy Institute show that between 2005 and 2015, Illinois police have seized at least $319 million worth of cash and property from civilians suspected, but not convicted, of a crime.
Law enforcement agencies have the right to take money, cars, or other types of property from civilians without actually filing formal charges against someone, according to CBS. A person needs only to be suspected of illegal activity to be vulnerable to seizure.
"The burden is on you to prove your innocence. If you do nothing, you will lose your property," says ACLU Criminal Justice Policy Attorney Ben Ruddell to CBS.
This practice is known as civil asset forfeiture, according to The Rock River Times, and without regulation could possibly lead to police corruption. Law enforcement agencies keep 65 percent the property they take which, according to the ACLU, serves as an incentive to take even more in order to increase their budget.
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Over 10 years, Illinois police officials have taken at least $319 million from suspected criminals. But, as The Rock River Times notes, this could be a conservative estimate. Reporting forfeiture statistics is not required under state law, meaning the actual monetary worth of all property taken could be much higher.
Police claim that the state's forfeiture laws mean that authorities can seize money and property that would be used to "fuel" street gang violence. Police Chief Gary Lemming tells CBS that those who do have their property taken do have a day in court to prove their innocence.
The problem, according to Lemming, is that "many times these people never show up for court."
Lemming also notes that the seized property funds police department expenditures, and allows for the purchase of one to two new squad cars each year.
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But this fact is troubling to Ruddell, who says that the fact that law enforcement can keep the seized property means that they have more incentive to take from citizens without regard for due process.
"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," he said, according to The Rock Ridge Times.