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Illinoisans can now report government corruption, online

Illustration by Mendy Kong

A new Illinois State Police form lets people report corruption anonymously. But does it go far enough?

Illinois is world-renowned for its corruption.

Four of the state’s last 10 governors have gone to prison. Members of former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan’s inner circle have been convicted, with Madigan himself set to face trial next year. Former Chicago Ald. Ed Burke is on trial now, made possible in part by former Chicago Ald. Danny Solis wearing a wire.

Corruption has dogged Chicago and Illinois’ reputations for generations. Now, the Illinois State Police are adding a tool to their anti-corruption arsenal: an online complaint form.

This week, the agency announced a new online form it says will let the public anonymously report public officials they suspect of corruption. The portal is part of an effort to make the State Police’s Special Investigations Unit a clearinghouse of sorts. ISP will collect public corruption complaints in a central location and then decide which agency should handle the matter. There are spaces to leave your name and phone number, but that’s not required.

The Special Investigations Unit was formed in March 2020 specifically to target public corruption. It’s opened 82 investigations so far.

RELATED: How does corruption impact democracy? Take a look at Illinois.

“By making it easier for the public to confidentially report suspected corruption, we can begin restoring the public’s trust in government,” State Police Director Brendan Kelly said in a statement. “ISP will continue to work with its partners in law enforcement to investigate misconduct and corruption.”

The agency is targeting local, county and state offices, and police are interested in all manner of malfeasance: bribery, extortion and kickbacks, to name just a few.

Kent Redfield, a longtime Illinois political expert, said he’s not sure how effective the new online form is going to be.

Redfield, a professor emeritus of political studies at the University of Illinois Springfield, said it sounds like state police will be taking on more responsibilities without any additional funding or staffing.

“To be active in all the areas they talk about, it would require a lot more resources or require taking resources from things they are already doing,” Redfield said in an email. “Without a lot of coordination and control across all the entities involved, it would probably create a lot of overlap and duplication which would reduce the effectiveness of the overall effort.”

A State Police spokesperson said the unit has the appropriate staffing to analyze public complaints and refer them to the right agency.

“ISP has investigated public corruption matters since its inception,” spokesperson Melaney Arnold said. “Referring complaints to the appropriate law enforcement agency is routine practice for all law enforcement agencies, for any crime.”

House Minority Leader Tony McCombie, R-Savanna, said in a statement that any step toward fighting public corruption is a good one.

“This newly launched corruption portal is just that: a step forward,” she said. “Unfortunately, there is much more we can do to increase ethics in Illinois if Democrat leaders would work with us to instill better public trust in our government.”

Alex Degman is a Statehouse reporter with WBEZ.