Dec 5, 2016
Over the last ten years, Illinois cops confiscated more than 319 million dollars worth of property. Federal policing agencies seized another 404 million dollars from people in Illinois. The police can take this property without proving a crime has taken place. They can confiscate property without a conviction, a charge, or even an arrest. And once they’ve taken your property, you have to prove that it wasn’t used in a crime, rather than the other way around, through a very complicated and expensive legal process.
In one case, a 70-year-old woman let her grandson use her SUV. When he was arrested on charges of driving with a suspended license, the cops seized her vehicle, saying it had been used in the commission of a crime. When the woman tried to get her SUV back, the judge ridiculed her for not hiring an expensive lawyer.
Even if you do get your property back through a legal process heavily tilted in favor of the cops, you can’t get your court costs or legal fees reimbursed. If your property gets sold, which usually happens, the local prosecutor takes a cut off the top.
And the police department that seizes the property gets to keep the money. This gives police a huge incentive to take as much as they can. In fact, the Chicago Police Department and many other police departments around the state and the country write this into their budgets.
Whose property gets seized? Not the banks who used their massive wealth to rip off the whole country. Not the big companies that break safety laws, environmental laws, and tax laws every day. No, a huge share of the property is seized from people in poor and working class neighborhoods, disproportionately from black people.
Illinois is one of the worst states for taking people’s property, but it’s not alone. This practice, called “civil asset forfeiture,” took off as part of the “war on drugs” in the 1980s and 1990s and expanded greatly under both Reagan and Clinton. It was justified as a way to seize money and property from drug dealers. But in fact it’s always been used to allow the police to steal from vulnerable people.
This system is set up perfectly – to legally turn the police into a gang of thieves.