Now the Reader has documented for the first time the full size and scope of CPD's civil forfeiture program—how much money it brings in and how it spends its take.
Through numerous Freedom of Information Act requests, the Reader, working with the Chicago-based transparency nonprofit Lucy Parsons Labs and the public records website MuckRock, obtained more than 1,000 pages of CPD documents—including the department's deposit and expenditure ledgers, internal e-mails, and purchasing records—that offer an unprecedented look into how Chicago police and the Cook County state's attorney's office make lucrative use of civil asset forfeiture.
Since 2009, the year CPD began keeping electronic records of its forfeiture accounts, the department has brought in nearly $72 million in cash and assets through civil forfeiture, keeping nearly $47 million for itself and sending on almost $18 million to the Cook County state's attorney's office and almost $7.2 million to the Illinois State Police, according to our analysis of CPD records.
The Chicago Police Department doesn't disclose its forfeiture income or expenditures to the public, and doesn't account for it in its official budget. Instead, CPD's Bureau of Organized Crime, the division tasked with drug- and gang-related investigations, oversees the forfeiture fund in what amounts to a secret budget—an off-the-books stream of income used to supplement the bureau's public budget.
The Reader found that CPD uses civil forfeiture funds to finance many of the day-to-day operations of its narcotics unit and to secretly purchase controversial surveillance equipment without public scrutiny or City Council oversight.
(The Cook County state's attorney's office, for its part, clearly indicates narcotics-related forfeiture income in its annual budget. According to its 2016 budget, the office will use this year's expected forfeiture revenue of $4.96 million to pay the salaries and benefits of the 41 full-time employees of its forfeiture unit.)
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