CHICAGO (CN) – A Chicago-based police accountability group claims in court that the city’s police department has once again refused to hand over documents showing how it spent money from a secret fund of seized cash.
Lucy Parsons Labs works on various projects involving digital rights and government transparency. The group filed a lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court on Thursday, alleging the Chicago Police Department violated the Freedom of Information Act.
LPL filed a FOIA request in May as part of its Narcotics Audit, a joint project with government accountability website Muckrock. The request sought documents showing what seven specific checks from the department’s “1505” fund were used to purchase.
“Under the 1505 program when CPD seizes suspected drug money it uses that money to fund various policing projects including electronic surveillance,” LPL’s lawsuit states.
Civil forfeitures – cash or other assets seized by police in connection with suspected crimes – are added to the 1505 fund and are overseen and spent by the department’s Bureau of Organized Crime.
The property owners are not necessarily arrested or charged with a crime, according to a Chicago Reader investigation last year.
“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,” LPL says on its website.
The group asked for information on how checks over $5,000 from the fund were spent, and so far has filed requests for about 85 to 90 percent of those purchases.
While many of the expenditures are routine, LPL says it discovered that CPD used some of the money to buy electronic surveillance gear, including “Stingray” technology that allows surveillance of cellular phones.
According to the Reader, which worked with LPL and Muckrock, CPD has raked in $72 million in civil forfeitures since 2009. The department kept $47 million of that money and passed the rest on to the Cook County state’s attorney’s office and the Illinois State Police.
This money is not accounted for in the department’s official budget, which was $1.4 billion in 2016, and is used “off-the-books.”
LPL says CPD asked for an extension a couple of weeks after its request, and after a month told the group it was working on it, but that was the only response.
“This is not the first time LPL and its members have had to file suit against CPD on 1505 related records,” LPL says in its complaint, citing lawsuits from 2015 and 2016.
The group is asking the court to order CPD to provide the documents it requested, and is represented by Joshua Hart Burday of Loevy & Loevy in Chicago.
A spokesperson for CPD told Courthouse News that the department does not comment on pending litigation.