The results of our investigation of the use of civil forfeiture by Chicago Police from 2009-2015 were published in the Chicago Reader in September 2016. View our current asset forfeiture data archive here:
This is an ongoing project to bring transparency to the use of asset forfeiture monies by Chicago Police. We’re currently working on adding our newest data from 2016.
Our joint project with Muckrock
Over the last two years, we have used FOIA to investigate the use of surveillance equipment by the Chicago Police Department (CPD). Through multiple FOIA requests and lawsuits, we have demonstrated the CPD’s purchase and use of controversial “Stingray” cellphone surveillance devices among other new surveillance technologies. Also through this work we have seen Chicago Police acting in “bad faith” in fulfilling our FOIA requests.
Further investigation demonstrated that money to purchase this surveillance gear was originating from their “1505” Narcotics asset forfeiture fund. In some cases these funds are seized from citizens only suspected of criminal wrongdoing - citizens not convicted in court. In this project we aim to understand how these funds are spent by conducting an independent audit of the CPD’s 1505 Narcotics asset fund. We are requesting documents to find out what each check in the fund greater than $5000 was spent on.
Our investigations of the 1505 fund have revealed the purchase of a “Hailstorm upgrade” to CPD’s Stingray in order to enable surveillance of 4G LTE cellphones. The use of this equipment has come under intense scrutiny because the authorization may be coming from pen/trap orders which may conflict directly with IL state legislation that protects citizens from unlawful location surveillance - IL SB-2808 (see here, here and here). We have found that these funds are also being used for the purchase of PENLink surveillance software and Cellbrite cell phone forensics software by the Cook County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) and CPD.
Recently in Chicago, we’ve seen Chicago Police spying on Black Lives Matter activists, potentially even using some of these new surveillance tools. Investigations like this audit are important for bringing transparency and accountability to the use of new surveillance devices by law enforcement. Electronic surveillance devices should have strict policies to regulate their use to prevent inappropriate use of new technologies, such as monitoring political protests. That accountability discussion can only occur if citizens are aware of the tools that local law enforcement are using. However, Chicago Police have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to maintain secrecy around their surveillance devices by fighting citizens trying to get access to public records through FOIA.
We need your help to track how 1505 asset forfeiture funds are being use by Chicago Police. To date we have requested about 85-90% of the purchases above $5000 from the 1505 fund (link to mirrors. The easiest, best way you can help is by participating. Please file a FOIA for a set of funds that has not been requested on MuckRock.
How to file a FOIA: Click here to copy a sample request, and then copy and paste information from 10 checks at a time from this list. Make sure that the checks your copying haven’t been filed for yet by looking at the request from the bottom of this page (we’ll also be regularly updating the list of checks on the link above to only show un-requested checks - if the list is empty check back and we’ll add more).
After you file a request, make sure to tag it “chicago surveillance fund” on Muckrock so we know to add it to this project.
Our FOIA request/response archive: Refer to our archive for example FOIA requests of this type.