No warrants required E-mail
Written by Mark Nichols   

If you’re a cop in Illinois, fighting the war on drugs just got a little easier. No longer will law enforcement need an o.k. from a judge in the form of a warrant to tap phones in drug investigations. Saying the change was about officer safety and the need for quicker drug arrests, Gov. Pat Quinn (D) signed House Bill 4081 into law last summer.

The legislation exempts law enforcement officers doing drug investigations from the provisions of the state's eavesdropping law. The bill also allows police to audio or videotape drug suspects without having to get a warrant.

"The world of illicit drugs moves very quickly," explained Terry Lemming, an Illinois State Police commander, during a May hearing on the bill. "It's very difficult to find a judge in the middle of the night. I didn't see the sense in spending all these hours drafting a court order when I could have already gone out and arrested a guy selling on the corner, and that's the feeling of many narcotic officers."

Riverside, Illinois, Police Chief Tom Weitzel told the Drug War Chronicle the new law was desperately needed. Weitzel is a member of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, who, along with his colleagues have fought for 14 years to get the law passed.

"The law is critical to law enforcement,” Wetzel said. "First, it's an officer safety issue because many times backup teams are blocks away when drug transactions either take place in cars, within homes or apartments, or just on the streets."

Weitzel said the law would also benefit defendants.

"The legislation will help secure better evidence for prosecutors and protect suspects from police misconduct, including the fact the same audio recordings made by police can be used by defendants who claim entrapment," he argued.

Under HB 4081 judges aren’t in the loop on warrants, but will still have some say in determining whether evidence gained from a wiretap can be admitted at trial.

"I understand the desire to enhance law enforcement tools to deal with crime, and I am certainly on the side of law enforcement, but it's a very slippery slope we go down when we start removing safeguards that has historically exist to make sure certain tools not be used inappropriately," state Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) told the Chicago Tribune.

Needless to say, liberal groups like the ACLU are up in arms.

The ACLU of Illinois’ director of communications and public policy Ed Yohnka, told reporters that not only is the new law another nail in the coffin of the Fourth Amendment but it’s also unnecessary.

"In all the years that Illinois law enforcement worked for this change, they never been able to point to a particular need for this new power. In many years, we have seen drug related arrests in Illinois rise over a yearly period without this new authority.”

Some are a little troubled by the idea that police can record, videotape and phone tap potentially innocent suspects without a warrant while Illinois law prevents citizens from filming police without their consent.

But like in other states across the country, that law is now under review by the state's appellate courts in a case arising from the 2009 arrest of self-employed artist Christopher Drew.

When police arrested him for selling art on the street without a proper permit, they discovered him recording the encounter.

They then charged him with felony eavesdropping for recording them without their permission.

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