Supporting SB689, the Seizure and Forfeiture Reporting Act in Illinois

IL SB689 is a bill that seeks to reform the civil asset forfeiture process in Illinois. Lucy Parsons Labs submitted our support for it with some important feedback.

Written by Freddy Martinez

The Lucy Parsons Labs supports IL SB689, the Seizure and Forfeiture Reporting Act which attempts to reform the process of civil asset forfeiture in Illinois. While working under a framework that seeks to abolish civil asset forfeiture in general, we also recognize the need for harm reduction in these programs. IL SB689 would reform the process in several important places, most notably shifting the burden of proof from the defendants to the seizing agency. There are also strong reporting requirements for seizures which require reporting the value seized, location, and whether the person had been convicted of a crime. This is significant as the Lucy Parsons Labs has spent over a year and a half sending FOIA requests to numerous state agencies and still has a very incomplete picture of the scale of seizures, in particular the racial demographics of seizures. IL SB689 would also require a criminal conviction before seized property can be forfeited over to the State. Lastly, SB689 creates a general fund into which all seized property would be pooled. Non–law enforcement groups would then be able to apply for funds to run social services programs.

However, this bill has some serious limitations, in particular the administration of the general fund. The criteria for applying to the general fund by police departments is written very broadly. It states: (2) Any State or local law enforcement agency may apply for funding for any of the following purposes: (A) to enforce the criminal and traffic laws of this State; (B) to administer gang intervention and prevention programs; (C) to purchase opioid antagonists as defined in Section 5-23 of the Alcoholism and Other Drug Abuse and Dependency Act; (D) to provide education in the community or schools to promote prevention of the abuse of drugs or alcohol; or (E) for security cameras used for the prevention or detection of violence. The Lucy Parsons Labs does not believe that monies seized from the public should be used for these purposes. In particular, we have noted that the budget for high-tech surveillance equipment (“blue light cameras”, Automatic License Plate Readers, Stingray, Cellebrite, etc.) have come from civil asset forfeiture in Chicago. We maintain that these technologies 2(E) should be allocated through a general budget process, if they are to be purchased at all. Further, it has been reported a significant portion of the Chicago Police Bureau of Organized Crimes budget came through civil asset forfeiture. In a report for the Chicago Reader, we found that more than 90 percent of the money spent on known larger purchases was devoted to day-to-day operations and expenses. Maintaining that officers can seek further funds under 2(A) requires much more careful consideration or at minimum a narrowing of scope.

In all, we believe IL SB689 will put important restraints on a program that is already far too expansive and without significant checks. We hope to continue to work on gathering data on civil asset forfeiture and publishing it and sharing it with our partners. The full text of the reform bill is available here.