Civil asset forfeiture is an abomination loaded with perverse incentives for law enforcement. Investigations and convictions are too much work. Seizing cash from random motorists or residents is so much easier than legitimate police work. The laws barely governing this practice allow the agency performing the seizure to keep all or most of what’s seized, which has led directly to the widespread abuse we see around us today.
The practice always has its defenders. Most of those defenders come from the same agencies that are directly profiting from asset forfeiture. They say the expected stuff about fighting the good Drug War — that taking $ 500 from a random motorist somehow creates a ripple effect felt all the way at the top of the drug distribution chain. Everyone knows they’re full of shit, but there are enough true believers in most state legislatures that the practice remains largely unaltered across the United States.
But there are some outliers. Some people see the perverse incentives asset forfeiture creates and say perverted cops are the best cops.
Jarrod Bruder, the executive director of the South Carolina Sheriff’s Association who frequently lobbies for law enforcement interests at the Statehouse, said that without the incentive of profit from civil forfeiture, officers probably wouldn’t pursue drug dealers and their cash as hard as they do now.
If police don’t get to keep the money from forfeiture, “what is the incentive to go out and make a special effort?” Bruder said. “What is the incentive for interdiction?”
I don’t know… how about IT’S YOUR FUCKING JOB. This is a law enforcement professional who actually thinks cops won’t do cop work unless they can periodically seize cash from people they interact with. Hey, Mr. Bruder, if cops can’t solicit bribes or extort protection money from local businesses, why should they be bothered to patrol neighborhoods or respond to robbery calls?
If Wells Fargo account reps can’t sign people up for accounts without their knowledge or permission, why should they even show up to help people open accounts or deal with banking issues? If an entrepreneur can’t rope investors into a pyramid scheme, why even bother getting out of bed at 4 am to bathe in the glow of inflated self-worth? Come on, Bruder. How can you be so obtuse?
There’s nothing quite like a law enforcement union rep telling the public the police are only willing to work when they can directly profit from their efforts. That’s the kind of word-of-mouth advertising asset forfeiture reform efforts need… courtesy of a union rep who doesn’t want the practice ended, much less altered.
That’s the stupidest thing said in defense of asset forfeiture in this article from the Greenville News, which gathers law enforcement responses to its investigation of the unsavory tactics deployed by state agencies. Even victims of crime aren’t off limits. Local cops will take money right off the kitchen counter when investigating murders and claim the $ 43 pocketed was the result of criminal activity.
But it’s not the only stupid thing said by law enforcement reps defending forfeiture.
Clemson Police Chief Jimmy Dixon said if police didn’t get to collect forfeiture money, it would hamper the department’s ability to conduct long-term drug surveillance.
“It could potentially shut down our K-9 unit,” he said. “Overall, our ability to conduct undercover narcotics operations could be stifled.”
Lt. Jake Mahoney with the Aiken Police Department said they’d have to divert money from the budget to cover drug enforcement.
Greenwood Police Chief Gerald Brooks said it would “sharply curtail our drug enforcement activities.”
Sounds like another set of cops with motivation problems. But even if you believe they’re not like the union rep quoted above them, they’re still complaining about possibly not being able to do something they’re not legally allowed to do.
Forfeiture proceeds are not meant to be written into a budget or counted on for recurring expenses, but should be treated as a supplement to provide for extra training or equipment, according to the law and legal opinions.
Those are the arguments in favor of asset forfeiture: cops won’t do their job if they can’t earn cash on the side and budgets, that aren’t supposed to include forfeiture funds, will experience shortfalls because chickens cops aren’t supposed to count will no longer be hatched. Nice work, so-called drug warriors. It isn’t — and never has been — about dismantling the drug trade. If law enforcement ever made a serious dent in crime, the extra money would dry up. And that’s something they’re just not going to allow to happen.
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