A street gang fund that could have potentially collected millions of dollars to combat gang violence in Illinois has only a few hundred dollars in it after several years on the books, an investigation has found.
The 2010 Illinois law imposed a fine of $100 dollars for any gang member convicted of a crime. That money was supposed to be used to help police agencies fight gang violence across the state.
But after two and a half years, NBC Chicago has learned there is only $1,700 in the fund.
State Sen. Kimberly Lightford, who co-sponsored the law, said she expected officials have been able to collect millions from convicted gang members by now.
"I’m hoping the state’s attorney office will say it’s an oversight," Lightford said, claiming that it’s up to prosecutors to mark the court form and request the fine be enforced.
Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office spokesperson Sally Daly said prosecutors do request that fines be imposed but said it is up to the judge to order the fine and the Circuit Court Clerk’s office to collect the money.
"There has been no oversight on the part of the Cook County’s State’s Attorney’s Office when it comes to our role in the collection process for the Street Gang Fine," she said. "As required, our prosecutor’s mark the court form and request that the fine be imposed in all appropriate cases. Ultimately, as the law states, it is up to the judge to order the assessment of the fine at sentencing and the Circuit Court Clerk to collect it."
The Circuit Court clerk’s office told NBC Chicago that many defendants simply don’t pay their fines.
"If a gang member is assessed the fine, he or she would have to actually pay the fine," said Circuit Court spokesperson Jalyne Strong. "Our experience is that many defendants do not pay their fines, or only make partial payments, some as little as $5.00 at a time."
The Chicago Crime Commission's executive director, Joseph Ways, estimates the number of gang members in the Chicago area is as high as 170,000.
"It’s appalling that someone doesn’t follow through on something that is there for the taking," said Ways.
According to the Chicago Police Department, officers arrested 42,000 gang members in 2012. If only half of these gang members arrested were convicted, the state could have collected nearly $2 million in fines.
"The Chicago Police Department could use it. The state’s attorney office could use it. The Cook County Sheriff’s Office could use it, said Ways. "It’s a shame it’s not being collected."
"We need this money because our children are dying. We need this money because gang activity has to stop," she said.