OK. So here's the deal.
I only have a rudimentary understanding of these sorts of proceedings, but basically, police departments get the proceeds of seized assets from suspected criminals. Why is this is so bad? Well,
A thriving subculture of road officers on the network now competes to see who can seize the most cash and contraband, describing their exploits in the network’s chat rooms. Some police advocate highway interdiction as a way of raising revenue for cash-strapped municipalities.citation
‘‘All of our home towns are sitting on a tax-liberating gold mine,’’ Deputy Ron Hain of Kane County, Ill., wrote in a self-published book under a pseudonym. Hain is a marketing specialist for Desert Snow, a leading interdiction training firm based in Guthrie, Okla., whose founders also created Black Asphalt.
Hain’s book calls for ‘‘turning our police forces into present-day Robin Hoods.’’
The gambit is set: police are using this as a way for quick and easy money. Some might argue that the people were in fact guilty, or that they ought to contest these seizures. However:
The Post found that there have been 61,998 cash seizures made on highways and elsewhere since 9/11 without search warrants or indictments through the Equitable Sharing Program, totaling more than $2.5 billion.
State and local authorities kept more than $1.7 billion of that while Justice, Homeland Security, and other federal agencies received $800 million. Half of the seizures were below $8,800.
Only a sixth of the seizures were legally challenged, in part because of the costs of legal action against the government. But in 41 percent of cases — 4,455 — where there was a challenge, the government agreed to return money. The appeals process took more than a year in 40 percent of those cases and often required owners of the cash to sign agreements not to sue police over the seizures.
It's evident that this is an onerous process to go through, and one that might not result in justice for the aggrieved party.
As for why I argue for establishing a limit on the proceeds that police departments can receive:
This cruel surprise was engineered by Vincent Kelley, a forfeiture specialist at the Drug Enforcement Administration who read about the Motel Caswell in a news report and found that the property, which the Caswells own free and clear, had an assessed value of $1.3 million. So Kelley approached the Tewksbury Police Department with an “equitable sharing” deal: The feds would seize the property and sell it, and the cops would get up to 80 percent of the proceeds.citation
Under Massachusetts law, by contrast, police would have received only half the loot, and forfeiture may have been harder. State law says a seized property has to be used not just to “facilitate” a drug crime but “in and for the business of unlawfully manufacturing, dispensing, or distributing controlled substances,” which suggests a stronger connection.
I won't paraphrase the whole story in the article. However, it seems obvious that entitling police departments to the fruits of asset seizures creates a perverse incentive to enforce the law gratuitously.
Want to fund police departments? Here's how: appropriate money. But the status quo is arbitrary, regressive, and an affront to justice.