Did you know police are allowed to seize and keep your cash, cars, real estate, and any other property – even if you’re never convicted or even charged with a crime? It’s called civil asset forfeiture – and if it sounds like legalized burglary, that’s because it is.
In cities and small towns across the country – Baltimore jumps to mind at the moment – law enforcement has lost the trust of the communities they are supposed to serve and protect. And asset forfeiture is one the crucial and often-overlooked drivers of this dangerous breakdown.
Because seized assets often go straight into the coffers of the enforcement agency, asset forfeiture has led to a perversion of police priorities – such as increasing personnel on the forfeiture unit while reducing the number of officers on patrol and in investigation units – that jeopardizes public safety. While civil asset forfeiture was originally conceived as way to drain resources away from powerful criminal organizations, a new Drug Policy Alliance report – Above the Law: An Investigation of Civil Asset Forfeiture Abuses in California – shows how it has now become a relied-upon source of funding for law enforcement agencies all across the state.
This multi-year, comprehensive look at asset forfeiture abuses in California reveals the troubling extent to which law enforcement agencies have violated state and federal law. What emerges is a picture of a handful of relatively small cities clustered in Los Angeles County that lead the state in per capita seizures. Many of these cities were providing false or inconsistent reports to the Justice Department, while some other cities appeared to be engaged in budgeting future forfeiture revenue, despite this being explicitly illegal under federal law.
– Read the entire at AlterNet.