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Chicago Tribune Letters to the Editor

Level crime-fighting playing field

The General Assembly has left Illinois in the dark ages by refusing time and again to give its prosecutors the same tools used for generations in other states (and the federal system) to fight organized criminal groups. For example, in Illinois, an undercover officer in the state system cannot make a consent-based recording ("wear a wire") without first filing a sworn statement explaining the equivalent of probable cause that a certain crime is being committed. In this way, state investigators are stuck in a classic "Catch-22" wherein they cannot use the very device designed to reveal probable cause -- unless they already have the probable cause.

In an attempt to level the playing field and take the "handcuffs off" state prosecutors in Illinois, the Cook County state's attorney's office proposed a series of time-tested legal reforms that were endorsed by the Chicago Bar Association, the news media and law-enforcement groups across the state, as well as adopted by the Illinois Reform Commission in its independent recommendations for cleaning up state government. Our reforms would have enacted laws that would have allowed the following:

* True consent-based recordings with prior judicial approval.

* Court-approved wiretaps for more than just drugs and murder.

* An effective state racketeering provision to target criminal groups as a whole, not just their expendable rank and file.

With such reforms, this state could prosecute any diverse criminal group in a single proceeding and impose the right sanctions, like modern forfeiture, to put them out of business for good. Indeed, the proposed bill specifically maintained judicial oversight for the use of eavesdropping and wiretaps, and provided in-person conversations with the same privacy protections that Illinois law currently affords a person's own home.

On the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, however, a Senate subcommittee in Springfield quietly killed all of these law-enforcement reforms. These important reforms will now never see an up-or-down vote on the floor of the General Assembly this session.

My office will continue to work in good faith to pass these reforms and we will continue to make our case with legislators and the public.

-- Anita Alvarez, Cook County state's attorney, Chicago