Monday, November 30, 2015

Police Departments Might Be Taking More Than Burglers

I really hope this cartoon is not reality. 
I don't mean to pile on law enforcement, but can certain jurisdictions please stop just stealing people's money just because they can?

It's true, They can. It's called civil forfeitures.

It invites so much crookedness and corruption that I don't think there's any hope of rescuing any of it.  With people aleady getting more and more skeptical about the police, do we really want the entire populace not trusting them?

I've complained about this before, but it bears repeating, especially with the latest study that came out. More on that in a minute.

Civil forfeiture is the ability of law enforcement and prosecutors to take money or property away from people suspected of committing a crime. This can happen without charging the owners of the cash or property with a crime.

I suppose the original impetus of this arrangement was full of good intentions. It started mostly as a way to stop the drug trade. Authorities could take assets used to promote illegal drug sales. And they could grab the money or property after an arrest but before a conviction.

That way, criminal enterprises wouldn't get a chance to stash the cash away,  out of reach of authorities. Civil forfeiture would help thwart the drug sales by interrupting the assets people had to continue this extremely shady business.

However, in some jurisdictions, it's become a method for quote, unquote law enforcement to shake down innocent people for property. And some of these police and prosecuting agencies take a LOT of money and property for their own use. Kind of like the Mob is famous for doing.

I had no idea how bad this was until an Institute for Justice study came out last week.

Says the Institute for Justice:

"Civil forfeiture laws pose some of the greatest threats to property rights in the nation today, too often making it easy and lucrative for law enforcement to take and keep property - regardless of the owner's guilt or innocence."

Blogger Martin Armstrong of Armstrong Economics crunched the data in the Institute for Justice report:

"Between 1989 and 2010, U.S. attorneys seized an estimated $12.6 billion in asset forfeiture cases. The growth rate during that time was +19.4 annually. In 2010 alone, the value of assets seized grew by 52.8 percent from 2009 and was six times greater than the total for 1989.

Then by 2014, that number ballooned to roughtly $4.5 billion for the year, making this 35 percent of the entire number of assets collected from 1989 to 2010 in a single year. According to the FBI, the total amount of goods stolen by criminals in 2014 burglary offenses suffered an estimated $3.9 billion in property losses. This means the police are now taking more assetts than the criminals."

Here's how the Washington Post described how bad things have gotten with forfeitures in an investigatige report last year:

"An aggressive brand of policing (is spreading) that has spurred the seizure of hundreds of millions of dollars in cash from motorists and others not charged with crimes.....

Thousands of people have been forced to fight legal batles that can last more than a year to get their money back.

"A thriving subculture of road officers now competes to see who can seiz the most cash and contraband, describing their exploits in the network's chat rooms and sharing "trophy shots' of money and drugs. Some police advocate highway interdiction as a way of raising revenue for cash-strapped municipalities."

In other words, these jurisdictions and governments know that they'll become unpopular with their constituents if they do try the traditional method of using tax dollars to fund law enforcement. So they just shake down people who happen to be passing  through.

I'm really stunned this kind of thing hasn't gotten more publicity. Especially considering how widespread this practice has become. Can you imagine if roving gangs of pirates were shaking down motorists, who, say stopped at a highway rest area?

Noah Smith, writing in Bloomberg View describes the various threats this state of affairs creates succinctly:

"The threat to individual liberty from stop-and-seize is painfully clear. Without requirements for an arrest or for a warrant, the power to confiscate cash is a clear diminution of property rights.

Effectively, the police have been given official sanction to commit literal highway robbery without the threat of punishment. People whose property was seized must pay a lot of monye and spend a long time in court for even the chance of getting it back, and police who seize money with no good reason don't, apparently, suffer any threat of discipline.

But stop-and-seize also presents a danger to public trust. When the cops go around taking money from innocent people to fund their own departments and salaries it understandably decreases trust in the government and the legal system. That is something we can ill-afford at the present time, with trust in the police already at a low ebb over a series of videos and police killings.

If they don't trust the government, people will be less likely to report criminals, and possibly less likely to follow the law themselves."

Just what this country needs. More upheaval.

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