| Posted on Wed, April, 22nd 2015 by THCFinder
Today, the Drug Policy Alliance launches a multi-year, comprehensive look at asset forfeiture abuses in California that reveals the troubling extent to which law enforcement agencies have violated state and federal law.
Civil asset forfeiture law allows the government to seize and keep cash, cars, real estate, and any other property – even from citizens never charged with or convicted of a crime. Because these assets often go straight into the coffers of the enforcement agency, these laws have led to a perversion of police priorities, such as increasing personnel on the forfeiture unit while reducing the number of officers on patrol and in investigation units. While civil asset forfeiture was originally conceived as an effective way to target and drain resources away from powerful criminal organizations, Above the Law discloses how these strategies and programs have now become a relied-upon source of funding for law enforcement agencies all across the state.
What emerges in the new report is a picture of a handful of relatively small cities clustered in Los Angeles County that lead the state in per capita seizures (Baldwin Park, Beverly Hills, Gardena, Irwindale, La Verne, Pomona, South Gate, Vernon and West Covina). The report’s analysis of fiscal records finds that many of these cities were providing false or inconsistent reports to the Justice Department, while some other cities appeared to be engaged in budgeting future forfeiture revenue, despite this being explicitly illegal under federal law.
“Civil asset seizure was never intended to be a primary funding source for law enforcement,” said Meghan Ralston, harm reduction manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Law enforcement professionals who put themselves in harm’s way to protect the public need appropriate levels of funding, but seizing the cash and property of potentially innocent citizens who are never charged with a crime is no way to fund public safety. This report is a wake-up call to all Californians.”
The revelations exposed in Above the Law add to major national momentum for reform. Earlier this month, New Mexico’s Republican Governor, Susana Martinez,signed a new law that ends the practice of civil asset forfeiture in the state, which now has the strongest protections against wrongful asset seizures in the country. In January, Attorney General Eric Holder announced changes that could make it harder for state and local law enforcement to use federal law to seize property without evidence of a crime. And bipartisan legislation known as the FAIR Act has been introduced in both houses of Congress that would dramatically reform federal civil asset forfeiture laws.