Automobiles

St. Louis Cops Turn Forfeiture Policy Into Free Car Rental Service

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Seems that the city of St. Louis, like many cities, allows the police to confiscate the cars of people suspected (but not necessarily convicted) of certain crimes. They have a contract with a city towing firm, and said firm was allowing police officers and their families to "rent" confiscated cars free of charge, sometimes for months on end. Officers and their families could also sometimes purchase the confiscated cars at a fraction of the cars' value.

All of that is pretty outrageous. But it gets better.  The St. Louis Post-Dispatch stumbled onto the story after investigating the daughter of the city's police chief. She had been involved in a number of accidents with different cars. On several occasions she had wrecked a car, then simply gone down to the towing service to get a 60-80 percent discount on a new one. After one accident, her blood-alcohol concentration tested at .17. She wasn't arrested or charged. The department says it has "no idea" why she was let go.

The police department hired a law firm, which concluded that the towing arrangement broke no rules or laws. The chief improbably claims he was oblivious to the deals his daughter was getting (her relationship with the towing service apparently goes back to 2002). The Post-Dispatch reports that the chief's last public statement on the matter was that, "the absolute necessity in maintaining transparency in the eyes of the public."

He has since declined to comment.

(Via TheNewspaper.com)

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  1. “The police department hired a law firm, which concluded that the towing arrangement broke no rules or laws.”

    That really says it all. We have become totally beholden to our laws. The idea that there are rules of morality above and beyond laws never occurs to people. If you can get a lawyer to tell you it is okay and you have the power, you can do it. Pathetic. Sometimes I think there is not a hell because no one really deserves to go there. Then I see things like this and reconsider it.

  2. Monopoly on justice + monopoly on force = inevitable corruption

    Is this such a hard idea to grasp?

  3. I shudder to think of the true level of police corruption across the country. I have this feeling it would make The Shield look like Dragnet in comparison.

  4. Epi, my buddy Joe has often said that the crimes of government that we do know about almost certainly pale in comparison to those that we don’t know about. I have no doubt that he’s right. And you can be sure that police corruption is no exception.

  5. In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

    Not in St. Louis.

    nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law

    Not in St. Louis.

    n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

    Not in St. Louis.

    Really, the details here are trivial and irrelevant. I don’t really care if cops and their families are partying like it’s 1999 in these cars. That is insignificant compared to the fact that the cars can be taken without due process in either a civil or a criminal court.

  6. From the article:

    “The most that can be said would be that [the towing firm] is endeavoring to create a reservoir of future good will with the 4th District and the Department generally,” the report said, as quoted by the Post-Dispatch.

    Isn’t this legalese for bribe?

  7. The next logical step is confiscating homes.

    Then, when the police’s chief daughter wants to get her drink on, she can do it within the comfort of someone’s home.

  8. Is said law firm owned by a Dr. Nick Riviera by any chance?

  9. The department says it has “no idea” why she was let go.

    Please tell me that the paper interviewed a Sgt. Schultz for this story.

    “I see nothink. Nothink!

  10. I read about this in my town’s paper over the weekend, and was thinking Radley would get a kick out of it. Now here it is on Monday morning. Weird.

  11. Shit, it doesn’t even have to be a large city anymore: http://www.cantondailyledger.com/articles/2008/07/15/news/news02.txt

    Canton, IL (population 14,000ish) made a Big Deal out of starting their own SWAT team earlier this year.

    I guess the question is: are small towns just trying to ape their urban cousins on the force, or are cities acting like a bunch of Barney Fifes out in the sticks?

    Beats me.

  12. or are cities acting like a bunch of Barney Fifes out in the sticks?

    Bingo.

  13. “The police department hired a law firm, which concluded that the towing arrangement broke no rules or laws.”

    Wow, the law firm retained by the police department came to the conclusion that the police department was in the clear. Who would expect that?

  14. On Friday, the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners released the report of a private law firm hired by the department to investigate the free car program. It concluded no laws were broken.

    “The most that can be said would be that [the towing firm] is endeavoring to create a reservoir of future good will with the 4th District and the Department generally,” the report said, as quoted by the Post-Dispatch.

    Sounds like the law firm was endeavoring to create a reservoir of future good will with the 4th District and the Department generally.

  15. They have a contract with a city towing firm, and said firm was allowing police officers and their families to “rent” confiscated cars free of charge, sometimes for months on end

    This sounds ok to me. I don’t know what all of you are getting upset about. It’s not like something like this could be abused.

    what?

  16. Seems that the city of St. Louis, like many cities, allows the police to confiscate the cars of people suspected (but not necessarily convicted) of certain crimes.

    Which makes the police no different than the mob.

  17. It’s not abuse of authority until cops are allowed to use the marijuana they’ve seized to treat their own medical conditions.

  18. Sadly, this surprises me not one iota. People ask me “Gosh John, why do you hold the polices and courts in such low esteem?”* Because this is but one example of institutionalized injustice in the former “Land of the Free”.**

    Any forfeiture prior to conviction is on its face immoral. Any forfeiture that benefits those initiating the forgeiture is an open inducement to steal with impunity.

    * Actually it’s more like, “Why do you hate the cops so much?”
    ** A slight bit of hyperbole.

  19. Actually, the law firm may have given the right opinion. State ethics laws are often a lot loser than the federal ones. It is illegal for a federal employee to take a gift based upon his or her position. In some states it is not. One of Bobby Jindal’s first acts in office was to sign a bill that it illegal for public officials to accept gifts. When I saw that my first thought was “God Louisianna is corrupt”. Judging from this opinion, which I bet was based on something and not just made up, I bet the same rule is in effect in Missouri. “The most that can be said would be that [the towing firm] is endeavoring to create a reservoir of future good will with the 4th District and the Department generally.” Most people would call that a bribe, but in Missouri apparently not. One of the great myths of federalism is the idea that the states are somehow less corrupt than the feds.

  20. Monopoly on justice + monopoly on force = inevitable corruption

    Ah yes…what we really need are multiple militias battling it out for power! Mogadishu here I come!

  21. John is correct.

    Since the courts have ruled many times that the various Constitutional due process protections don’t actually mean anything, and that magistrates can take your property before you’re convicted of anything, it’s not surprising that they found lawyers to sign off on this.

    “Bribery” is a concept with little meaning when officials can simply take whatever property they want.

    You can’t bribe a cop with a free car when any cop who wants a car can just pluck one from the trees.

  22. Seems that the city of St. Louis, like many cities, allows the police to confiscate the cars of people suspected (but not necessarily convicted) of certain crimes.

    Which makes the police no different than the mob.

    Wait, the city of St. Louis allows the mob to confiscate cars?

  23. “Wait, the city of St. Louis allows the mob to confiscate cars?”

    There is a great scene in the movie Married to the Mob. In the scene, Michele Pfifer, the former wife of a mob boss, confronts the FBI who is trying to extort her into cooperation and says something to the effect of “you guys are worse than the mob”. To which the FBI agent responds wihtout a hint of irony “ma’am the Mafia is run by criminal sociopaths. The FBI is run by the President of the United States”. It is just hysterical.

  24. Being a denizen of St. Louis I’m not very surprised. The higher up the civil service ladder you go the worse it gets here. The few decent people working emergency services usually leave to work in the county. There are a few shining apples in the cities ranks, but you just have to wade through several feet of manure to find them.

    With St. Louis being and independent city the politics and the power wielded by individuals within the upper ranks of city government tends to be amplified.

  25. Ah yes…what we really need are multiple militias battling it out for power!

    Ah, the old false dichotomy: because the only difference between Somalia and the US is their lack of a massive central bureaucracy, right? 😉

    How about we just start with dissolving the federal government and letting the States compete for capital in a meaningful way? We can talk about anarchy later.

  26. “How about we just start with dissolving the federal government and letting the States compete for capital in a meaningful way? We can talk about anarchy later.”

    They already do compete in meaningful ways. There is a reason why New York loses population every year and every city in the sun belt is full of Red Sox fans who used to live in New England.

  27. How about we just start with dissolving the federal government and letting the States compete for capital in a meaningful way? We can talk about anarchy later.

    But the problem in this case is that a local government is abusing the rights of people under its jurisdiction in ways that the federal government should prevent, and would prevent if the feds’ own asset forfeiture programs weren’t their incentive to ignore the Bill of Rights.

    More devolution of power to the states would simply make problems like this worse.

    And “move away from St. Louis” is not a response. Not unless “topple the state government of Missouri, without the intervention of any of the other states singly or in concert and without the intervention of a federal body” is one of the other choices.

  28. The department says it has “no idea” why she was let go.

    I have an idea as to why she was let go…

  29. “And “move away from St. Louis” is not a response.”

    Exactly. Most of these abuses just effect the poor and the unlucky. The vast majority of the people in the city have no idea they are going on and if they did would think “well maybe if we did this kind of thing more, the poor would just move away”.

  30. But the problem in this case is that a local government is abusing the rights of people under its jurisdiction in ways that the federal government should prevent

    Emphasis mine.

    Isn’t the whole point then that the federal government isn’t doing what it is supposed to be doing? Of course, the cynic that I am would respond that the federal government is working exactly the way one would expect such a system to work, when there’s no way of enforcing a “do no harm” litmus test on its officers.

    I contend that centralization of power of the type you see in the US actually acts as an enabler for bad behavior on the part of individual States, because it promotes homogenization that serves as a deterrent for all but the most motivated to pack up and move to a different state.

    I’m not saying that our problems are limited to the Feds by any means: I’m not an anarchist for nothing, after all. 😉 But in this case the Feds act like a crime syndicate or cartel, setting up a framework in which each individual state government can be most “profitable” within its domain, so IMO it makes sense to eliminate the cartel first in order to create competition that might promote better behavior.

    I think it’s hard to argue with the logic that 50 individual states competing for capital is better than one cartel. Of course, feel free to present an argument disagreeing with me if you’d like.

    It occurs to me that this is far afield, though: really my response should have been to ask Ayn Randian how he proposes to solve the conflict of interest inherent in any group that possesses both ultimate force and the exclusive ability to determine whether its use of force was just or not. I don’t see any way of solving this problem without introducing competition.

  31. I think it’s hard to argue with the logic that 50 individual states competing for capital is better than one cartel.

    Because the states would also compete on the basis of who can best appeal to majorities that want to abuse minorities.

    But more importantly, as I alluded, the notion that these states are “individual actors” is a mirage. If one of the states decided that it had the right to institute [for example] a state church, I should not have to move to avoid it. I would be morally entitled to preserve my religious freedom by burning down the state legislature and wiping out the state police. But if I actually did that, the federal government would intervene on behalf of the state government. And if the federal government’s police power is going to be the ultimate backup for any absurd nonsense perpetrated by the states, then the federal government’s legal protections for the rights of all citizens must apply, and states’ rights be damned.

  32. But if I actually did that, the federal government would intervene on behalf of the state government. And if the federal government’s police power is going to be the ultimate backup for any absurd nonsense perpetrated by the states, then the federal government’s legal protections for the rights of all citizens must apply, and states’ rights be damned.

    And I’m arguing nothing more profound than simply “wishing won’t make it so”: the incentives created by our system of government make it inevitable that the federal government will almost always take the side of state governments rather than that of the people. Elections today are less about representation than about jamming a foot through the door of the governing class and doing whatever it takes to preserve that class’s privileges and one’s membership within it.

    If you haven’t read Hoppe’s Democracy: The God That Failed, I really can’t recommend it more highly if you are the analytical sort. It explains in brutal detail exactly why democracy leads to bad outcomes. Quite depressing if you are a (classical) liberal, but admitting the problem is the first step toward recovery. 😉

  33. How about we just start with dissolving the federal government and letting the States compete for capital in a meaningful way? We can talk about anarchy later.

    *Ahem* Mississippi, Kansas and Alabama* are three example why this proposal should never be attempted.

    * My apologies to residents of those three states. But you know where I’m coming from.

  34. There is a reason why New York loses population every year and every city in the sun belt is full of Red Sox fans who used to live in New England.

    Because people like the weather in the sun belt better. You aren’t seriously suggesting that CA and AZ are small govt paradises, are you? Of course, with the coming water wars, they may soon realize that there’s a reason why there didn’t used to be tens of millions of people living in the desert.

  35. *Ahem* Mississippi, Kansas and Alabama* are three example why this proposal should never be attempted.

    From a theoretical standpoint: I’d argue that eliminating competition doesn’t necessarily preclude the worst abuses of local governments, but it does prevent implementation of some of the best ideas (e.g., medical MJ). In general, if permission is required, I’d rather get it from the government most local to me than one thousands of miles and several levels of elite away from me.

    From a practical standpoint: fuck them. Anyone stupid enough to remain in one of those states deserves their fate.

    Whenever someone brings up examples like you did, I always respond that an independent New Hampshire or Vermont or Washington (etc.) would be a liberty magnet, attracting all sorts of freedom-loving people as well as the massive capital they have at their disposal. Imagine: a small, independent republic with some of the best infrastructure and most highly-motivated people in the world, but without the massive central bureaucracy strangling innovation in the name of mercantilism. I don’t know about you, but the possibility is incredibly exciting to me.

  36. One state seems to be taking steps in that direction…

    http://www.wnd.com/index.php?fa=PAGE.view&pageId=67229

  37. There is a Hell, but I don’t believe that is some where else.

    The White european people brought it here with them and used it against those who already were here and against other Spiritual people around the world and sought to destroy them with it. Hiding behind and using christanity for justification.


  38. The White european people brought it here with them and used it against those who already were here and against other Spiritual people around the world and sought to destroy them with it. Hiding behind and using christanity for justification.

    You’re welcome !

  39. Maybe they aren’t breaking the law, but I hope the officers are paying taxes on those “perks” that non-cops can’t get. If not, those individual police officers are breaking federal tax code if nothing else. If you go through multiple 60% discounted cars in a year this will add up to a big tax bill.

  40. * Actually it’s more like, “Why do you hate the cops so much?”?

    It disappoints me that so many people base their opinions almost wholly on the bad experiences they have and the times that people screw up. It’s like they conveniently ignore all of the good departments out there, and in their minds an officer that does his job properly is just a fantasy rather than a reality. (Or that it’s far more scarce than it actually is.)

    There are always bad apples, but that doesn’t actually mean the rest are spoiled too.

  41. The White european people brought it here with them and used it against those who already were here and against other Spiritual people around the world and sought to destroy them with it. Hiding behind and using christanity for justification.

    Ah yes, all of those spiritual paradises that were screwed up by the coming of the white man and his bright shiny iron.

    Sounds kinda stupid when you put it that way, doesn’t it?

  42. Which makes the police no different than the mob.

    I disagree. With the mob, you at least have the freedom to go to another crime syndicate and pay them the protection money instead. We don’t have that option with cops (or government in general).

  43. This is one of those “Count how many different things are fucked up” stories.

    1. The fact that cars are seized in the first place without a trial convicting somebody of wrongdoing.
    2. The fact that even if charges are dropped, the person who had their car seized has to pay large storage and towing fees, half of which go to the city, half to the towing firm.
    3. The fact that the towing company gets to own the car if the owner doesn’t claim it or want to pay said fees.
    4. The fact that the towing company knows it has to grease the powers that be hands so much that it frequently lends said cars for free to people like the police chief’s daughter and sells them to people like her at prices significantly below market value.
    5. The fact that she got away with blowing a .17 without being charged with a DUI.

    I’m sure I’ve missed some.

  44. I disagree. With the mob, you at least have the freedom to go to another crime syndicate and pay them the protection money instead.

    Really? What mob works like that?

    The St. Louis Police Department doesn’t work like that, and they are just like the mob (or so I’m told).

  45. To read the class actions and felony charges filed against cops and towtruckers for cartheft rackets, click the link for TOWCRIME.

  46. It disappoints me that so many people base their opinions almost wholly on the bad experiences they have and the times that people screw up. It’s like they conveniently ignore all of the good departments out there, and in their minds an officer that does his job properly is just a fantasy rather than a reality. (Or that it’s far more scarce than it actually is.)

    There are always bad apples, but that doesn’t actually mean the rest are spoiled too.

    Just like Muslims!!!

    Yeah, I’m sure there are a lot of good ones out there. But until they do a better job of denouncing the “bad apples,” rather than excusing and rationalizing their behavior, I’m going to assume that any one could be a violent extremist who hates Americans for their freedom.

    Just like cops!!!

  47. i can just see his fat pig belly hanging below the buckle. and his little pig nose sticking up in the air. ….i was talking about his daughter.

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