Civil Asset Forfeiture

Forget Justice: Cops Just Want Money

Police lobbyists swarm the California Capitol to derail popular asset-forfeiture reform bill.


The justice system is supposed to be about, well, justice. It's why district attorneys are ethically obliged to pursue convictions only against people they believe to have committed the crime. They are not supposed to pursue convictions at all costs to bolster their careers.

Likewise, when police agencies use "civil asset forfeiture" to take private property, they are not allowed to build their budgets around such takings. The funds are supposed to support extra programs – not supplant current dollars. That's so agencies don't replace the pursuit of justice with the pursuit of cash.

Unfortunately, forfeiture has become a widely abused practice. Instead of targeting drug kingpins as intended, police often target average citizens who haven't been convicted or even accused of a crime. For instance, officials tried to take a $1.5 million Anaheim office building because one of the owners' tenants was accused of illegally selling $37 in marijuana. Reports show that more than 80 percent of targets haven't even been indicted for anything.

There are many cases of police pulling over a driver and finding a large sum of cash – and they often keep the cash even if there's no evidence it was tied to a crime. It's clear why this happens. A recent report shows a number of Southern California cities rely on forfeiture cases to fund their budgets. If they can take it, they will. And to avoid California's tougher restrictions on these takings, police partner with the feds and split the loot.

SB 443 was a bipartisan effort to rein in the abuses. Mainly, it would have required a conviction before police can take property. It also was designed to stop police from bringing in the feds to circumvent state law as well as make it easier for people to contest a taking. It tried to force police to use this fearsome tool as intended – to target criminal enterprises – rather than to grab the cars of people caught in a minor offense.

The bill was defeated on its final vote on Thursday after law-enforcement lobbies swarmed the Capitol. Police chiefs were calling legislators. Legislators from both parties went wobbly. That's so – even though the bill already has been severely watered down to mainly require a conviction. At the last moment, some past supporters of reform started claiming it needed yet another amendment. California Republicans constantly blather about the Constitution, but only four GOP Assembly members backed this bill. And so much for Democratic concerns about police abuse.

Things got tough for supporters after the U.S. Department of Justice started interfering by telling law enforcement groups the legislation might endanger the "equitable sharing" funds California receives. "Should this legislation pass, the Treasury program would issue a notification… that the California state and local law-enforcement agencies are no longer eligible to participate in its sharing program," wrote one Justice Department official.

The California District Attorneys Association had been battling asset-forfeiture reform. In its August 5 letter to bill co-sponsor Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, the association painted a dire picture. It predicted a nearly $24 million loss to the general fund and a $75 million loss to law-enforcement budgets.

That's a similar line from a group of police organizations including the California Police Chiefs: "Passage of SB 443 will result in annual losses in excess of $80 million to California law-enforcement agencies." The groups say it will take away a tool for fighting "transnational criminal organizations."

"They say it's taking away their ability to deal with drug kingpins," said Diane Goldstein, a retired Redondo Beach police lieutenant and spokesperson for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. "It's absolutely not true. They are acting like bullies." She points to a recent public-opinion poll showing 76 percent of Californians are opposed to current asset-forfeiture standards.

Even police claims of financial loss were exaggerated. "This proposal does not violate the statutes or policies governing the Department of Justice Equitable Sharing Program," wrote Alice Dery of the Justice Department's asset-forfeiture unit, earlier this month. Dery, however,complained SB 443 "may be unworkable" because of some paperwork and deadline problems.

In other words, state and federal law-enforcement officials stopped this state bill that would protect people from oftentimes unfair takings of their property because they depend on the money and it's too much of a hassle for police to make sure a targeted person has been convicted of a crime.

We should at least be honest. California police agencies and district attorneys don't care about justice. They're just about the money.

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  1. It seems to me that the real headline here is “California Police Officials Claim to Have Taken $80 Million Dollars From Innocent People Last Year.”

    1. The mob’s got nothin’ on these guys. Perhaps Californians will remember this when they vote. Haha. Never mind.

    2. So they’re saying something like:

      “If you don’t let us take this money without even charging someone with a crime, we won’t have it anymore. If we don’t have it anymore, we won’t have the funds to perform absolutely vital law enforcement services (like stealing even MORE money from average citizens).

      I hate people sometimes.

    3. Makes me want to join the Black Lives Matter crowd. I’ll even supply the ammunition free of charge!

    4. Lets face the facts. The vast majority of cops are assholes. They would rather steal from the people, instead of actually helping people. Same for most government crooks. Especially, IRS, state tax collectors, prosecutors, judges, and all other government regulatory agents.

    5. They always steal from people in government!

      1. I forgot to mention, politicians as being assholes, too!

      2. there should have been a , after people. I was calling the government people the thieves. Especially in those aforementioned agencies.

  2. Buy they like puppies, so they can’t be corrupt!

  3. Once Bernie Sanders outlaws private prisons, this problem will be fixed. #CrashAndBern

    1. Hashtag for the ages….

    2. and we the peoples will have a right to free Ben & Jerry’s – any flavor

      1. Any flavor we want, as long as we want vanilla

  4. Legal corruption.

  5. And donuts. Lots of donuts.

  6. There isn’t a problem in the world that can’t be analyzed by following the money.
    This was all predicted when this shit started.
    Incentives, how do they work.

    1. Small municipalities all over the country have been partially funded by the ever popular radar speed trap for decades. They know it works. If you can’t go from 70mph to 40mph in 0 seconds, you lose.

      1. Hell, my brother got a speeding ticket in some podunk town out here in Ohio, when he was a significant distance behind the speed limit sign. When he pointed out that he had not yet reached the sign and was actually travelling at the legal speed limit for the section of the road he was on, the officer said, “the sign is here, but the speed limit actually changes back there.”

      2. Yeah, and if you brake that fast/suddenly, then they hit you with the “reckless driving” infraction!

        But no scam beats the speed camera/red light camera thievery. At least with civil asset forfeiture, a human cop takes your stuff. With these automated cameras illegally calibrated to issue incorrect tickets, the stealing is fully automated….

        1. I hear ya. I got busted by a red-light camera in Dallas for not completely stopping before turning right on red. Most cops would’ve paid that no mind, but there’s no reasoning with a computer system (or the people behind it).

          1. Most cops would perform a red light turn, in that fashion, too!

  7. I want to say I’m surprised this issue hasn’t gotten more media coverage, but that system is also corrupt.

  8. On the LA Times website, searching for ‘SB 443’ yielded THREE hits, and the most recent was from the editorial page dated August 23, 2015. Nothing about the defeat from yesterday.

    On the SF Chronicle website, the search didn’t yield any relative matches. Searching for ‘asset forfeiture’ found an article on the topic from 2 years ago.

    The Chronicle, however, did have a story prominently featured on it’s home page entitled, “Neighborhood on edge after coyotes kill cats”

  9. It’s easy to see how asset confiscation was bought as a pig in a poke by the American people. SSI was designed specifically as a congressional slush fund and sold as an old age retirement insurance to Americans and instead of thinking it through we just bought it. This is a nation that believes, both on the left and the right, that we can give the federal and state governments the power to strip American citizens of their second amendment rights without putting our own second amendment rights in danger. We’re a nation that believes government can somehow control speech without restricting our individual rights to speech. We’re a nation that believes we can have our cake and eat it too, somehow rights can become privileges for some Americans while remaining unalienable for us so that guy over there can lose his while our own are still guaranteed by the constitution. We believe we can allow government to sell us privileges and protected status and at the same time prevent it from selling that guy over there privileges and protected status.

    1. Actually we can have our cake and eat it too. But we can’t eat our cake and have it too.

      1. We all want cake.

        1. The cake is a lie.

  10. The charge that they need assent forfeiture to deal with drug kingpins is easily answered. Since the War On Drugs never makes any real progress, no matter how many ‘Drug Kingpins’ they arrest, why should the public tolerate any tactics that infringe on their rights? Indeed, why should the public tolerate the police at all?

  11. ” We believe we can allow government to sell us privileges and protected status and at the same time prevent it from selling that guy over there privileges and protected status.”

    Of course. To misquote a line from the movie 1776, too many people believe that rights are protected in the first person, i.e., MY rights as opposed to the second or third person, YOUR or THEIR rights.

    This must change if we’re to survive as a nation.

  12. “The justice system is supposed to be about, well, justice.”

    Whenever someone puts an extraneous “well” in a sentence, I can’t help but think of Ezra Klein and how it makes the author sound like, well, an idiotic, pretentious douchebag.

    Is that just me?

    1. well, it works for me…

      1. I think that you did that, well, ok.

        1. Well, well, well.

  13. As the sheer amount makes it impossible for any one man to know all of US law, I can’t claim to be a scholar, nor does my employment have anything to do with legal matters, but as a common man, I can not understand the difference between asset-forfeiture and armed robbery. Armed men take your possessions for their own uses, with no due process of law, under penalty of pain and/or death for refusal to comply. Only that, by the time you know you are going steal your property, you have already been rendered helpless.. it brings to mind Mark 3:27 – “But no one can enter the strong man’s house and plunder his property unless he first binds the strong man, and then he will plunder his house. So as a reasonable man, I am given to think that at the first sign of police interest in my person, I will potentially be a victim of robbery, and If I wait to find out, I will be bound and be helpless to it. And being a reasonable man the first thing I would do when seeing police is to go the other direction. Which, like any pack of predators will cause them to chase fleeing pray. So the only rational choice you have is to submit to the robbery, or to initiate with your own lethal force. The police unions are quickly pushing patient men into a wrath that will be felt by their own members. I sure wish some of the “good” police would realize the position that their own representation is putting them in.

    1. There are two differerences between being robbed at gun point and having your property seized through civil asset forfeiture.
      1. You may have some redress against the armed robber.
      2. The armed robber won’t tell you you’re being robbed for your own good.

      1. and you can resist being robbed and shoot him in the face.

        1. Not everywhere.

  14. I always think of police asset forfeiture when some pseudo-socialist tries to tell me that putting the government in charge eliminates the profit motive.

    The profit motive does not go away. It just takes different forms.

    1. that’s why in ‘profitless’ soviet bloc nations, the government leaders lived in relative luxury compared to those they were supposedly serving.

      money and profits are far from evil, and instead are great incentives for people to work hard. give them a fair and just system and we do well. give us an unjust system while lying about it being fair, and we don’t do well.

    2. Correct, it goes from profit via voluntary exchange to profit via coercion.

  15. Meanwhile these pooooor baby cops are crying that people don’t respect them anymore, booooo hoooooo hooooooo. It’s all this slanted press of cop haters who bring up civil asset forfeiture, unjustified abuses, cops who should be kicked off the force but the cop bill of rights won’t let them be charged for anything. Boo hoo hoo, they tape me and bring up my abuses, that’s why people don’t respect me, it’s not my fault I’m a corrupt pig not worthy of the uniform…

  16. Why do we continue to fuel this myth that cops are our friends?

    They are not. Civilian peace keeping in this country, or usually referred to as “law enforcement”, desperately needs a re-boot, beginning with a firm boot placed on the neck of every “leo”.

  17. Thugs in uniform.

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  19. absolutely reprehensible

  20. Well, I for one am shocked, shocked!, that our brave men and women in blue have priorities other than protecting and serving the citizens of their communities!

  21. ????Start your home business right now. Spend more time with your family and earn. Start bringing 78$/hr just on a c0mputer. Very easy way to make your life happy and earning continuously. Start here?…………..

  22. “He has … sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance…”

  23. I guess the government assholes think they can do whatever they want!

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