Sep 09 2014

Third World Law Enforcement

How Cops Seize Billions of Dollars from Ordinary People Who Haven’t Even Been Charged With a Crime

By Allegra Kirkland, Alternet

September 9, 2014

Like many other aspects of policing in America, civil asset forfeiture morphed into an entirely new beast in the paranoid aftermath of 9/11. The program, which allows law enforcement to seize cash or property without charging people with a crime, has existed in the U.S. for hundreds of years, but picked up steam with the start of the war on drugs in the Reagan era. Yet as AlterNet and other outlets have reported, the program is rarely used to confiscate stacks of cash from suspected drug lords or money launderers. Instead, it has become a boon for local police departments, who have seized hundreds of millions of dollars from regular people, particularly motorists, who then have to fight prolonged legal battles with the federal government to get their property back. This week, the Washington Post published a thorough investigation into the rise of civil asset forfeiture, exposing the troubling flaws in this widespread practice.

After combing through hundreds of thousands of Justice Department seizure records and hundreds of federal court cases, and interviewing police officers and victims of asset forfeiture, the Post reporters found that police have seized an incredible $2.5 billion since 2001, all from people who were not charged with a crime. Most seizures follow a familiar script: police pull drivers over for minor violations like improper signaling, check the driver for signs of nervousness and the vehicle for signs of criminal activity, and act on thin pretenses to seize the individual’s assets after finding money in the car. People have had thousands of dollars taken from them en route to purchase homes and cars, pay off gambling debts or pay dental bills. Once the money is gone, it can take over a year and many thousands of dollars to prove in court that it legally belongs to its owners, many of whom do not have the resources to fight back.

Here are four of the most disturbing facts from the Post’s investigation:

  1. State and local authorities kept more than $1.7 billion of the $2.5 billion in cash seizures made since 2001.
  2. Only one sixth of the seizures were challenged in court, thanks in part to the exorbitant costs of taking legal action against the government.
  3. The program is a critical source of revenue for hundreds of state and local departments. Since 2008, 298 departments and 210 task forces have seized what amounts to 20% or more of their annual budgets.
  4. Despite the fact that law enforcement officials in states like Kansas refuse to participate in the “highway interdiction” program because they worry it may not be legal, Justice and Homeland Security officials continue to use it.

Dept. Of Law Enforcement Investigates Notorious ‘Speed Trap’ Town Whose Seven Officers Wrote Up More Than 11,000 Tickets Last Year

by Tim Cushing, TechDirt

Wed, Sep 10th 2014

Law enforcement should not be viewed as a revenue generator. If a local police force is naturally self-sustaining, great. But if anyone starts thinking money first, all sorts of problems develop and the public becomes nothing more than wealth in search of extraction. Asset forfeiture is the most common abuse. People with too much cash in their possession will find it removed. If a cop (or a dog) thinks he smells drugs, vehicles are seized, bank accounts are frozen and homes go on the auction block.

AAA itself has called out the town for its ridiculous speed limit changes and has even posted a billboard outside the town limits to warn drivers. Now, the state has stepped in to take control of Waldo’s traffic enforcement.

The town appears to be finally righting years of wrongs, but only because the state is now involved. During the last several years when the police were contributing nearly half of the city’s $1 million budget through traffic enforcement, no one seemed to be making much noise. And the amount of tickets issued to keep the city half-afloat borders on inconceivable.

That’s not law enforcement. That’s just a scam wearing a uniform. Six speed limit changes in two miles is ridiculous under any circumstances, but even more so when the fluctuations are clearly there to trap anyone who misses a single sign. The state Dept. of Transportation actually sets speed limits but notes that those responsible considered input from Waldo’s PD when putting these into force. According to a somewhat defensive statement from the Florida DOT, foot traffic to schools and a popular flea market justified the speed limit fluctuations. “But it’s up to [Waldo] to enforce the speed limits” lobs the ball back into the Waldo PD’s court, but it’s barely enough to clear the net. Yes, Waldo could issue more warnings or turn the run through town to a straight 35 mph, but it’s had no reason to do so until now, after years and years and hundreds of thousands of tickets.

It’s not clear how the town will make up this revenue “shortfall” in the future, but judging from the brief glimpses and curt “no comments” issued, it’s none too happy. Whatever pain this causes for it in the future, it’s earned. The city was perfectly fine with turning drivers into compelled donors for years. Now, it’s going to need to get by on half the budget and let its police officers return to being police officers rather than a revenue stream.

1 comment

  1. ek hornbeck

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