U.S. Department of Justice agents have frozen an estimated $30 million slush fund the Bal Harbour, Florida police department amassed via civil forfeiture, which allows officers to seize property without charging anyone with a crime. The department, which protects and serves a population of 2,574 outside Miami, is under investigation for misuse of the funds and missing records. Via The Miami Herald:
In all, the team has helped take in $19.3 million from criminals in the past three and a half years in more than a half-dozen states and Puerto Rico, with the village raking in $8.35 million.
The village only keeps a portion of the profits because of equitable sharing, a federal program that lets local police circumvent state law governing forfeitures. Florida law provides more protections for property owners than federal statutes, so cops turn their seizures over to the feds who effectively launder it through federal courts and return some of it to the seizing agency. More from the Herald:
[Police Chief Thomas] Hunker said the squad does more in the war against drugs by hitting the dealers where it hurts the most: their pockets.
However, several experts said the village’s practices raise disturbing questions about cops targeting cash rather than criminals—and operating thousands of miles from Bal Harbour.
…In 2010 alone, village cops took part in 23 cases leading to $8.2 million in seizures—all outside of Florida—without law enforcement agents making a single arrest, records show.
…for years, the money rained on Bal Harbour: $100,000 for a 35-foot boat powered by three Mercury outboards, $108,000 for a mobile command truck equipped with satellite and flat-screen TVs, $25,463 for next generation Taser X-2s.
There was $7,000 for a police chiefs’ banquet, $45,839 for a Chevy Tahoe, $26,473 for Apple computers, $15,000 for a laser virtual firing range and $21,000 for an anti-drug beach bash.
…In just one month, records show police plunked down $23,704 mostly on trips to Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Tampa—including two first-class flights to California—and rentals of a Cadillac SRX and a Lincoln Town Car.
.... In the past nine months, auditors have put the village through the most rigorous review it has ever faced, with demands for bank statements, payroll records, ledgers and receipts.
For the first time, agents have demanded explanations for the thousands of dollars doled out to snitches, as well as payroll records for two Bal Harbour cops stationed in Southern California and Charlotte County on Florida’s west coast.
See here for Reason’s extensive archive of asset forfeiture abuse.