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Are Police Just Taking Property For Their Own Profit and Use? You Betcha.

Well, first things first — thanks to The Dallas Morning News Crime Blog, where reporter Tanya Eisener let us all know about the recent national study by the Institute for Justice entitled, “Policing for Profit: the Abuse of the Civil Forfeiture Process, and written by Scott Bullock together with three Ph.D.s: Dr. Marian R. Williams,  Dr. Jefferson E. Holcomb, and Dr.  Tomislav V. Kovandzic.

Policing For Profit — a Report Every Citizen Should Read

 If you go and read the 2010 asset forfeiture report, you’ll get sad.  And mad.  At least, let’s hope so.  But it’s important that you KNOW THIS. 

The report details what is happening in this country, state by state.  Through the use of web technology, it’s easy enough to plow through all this information:  the site lets you pick a state and review its information on a separate webpage. 

Go to Texas’ summary in the report, and learn that we’ve been given a grade of D-.  We flunked in State Law Evasion, but got a D (woo hoo) in Forfeiture Law, so presumably this averages out to somewhat higher than a failing grade.  D minus. 

My, doesn’t that make you feel safe?  By the way, Texas is one of the lowest state scores.  (The lowest scores were shared by Georgia, Michigan, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.) Betcha you’d already figured that out, if you’ve been following this blog

What’s Going On Here?

There are two kinds of asset forfeiture laws in this country: civil and criminal.  The federal government has its own set of forfeiture laws . So do each of the states, including Texas, of course.  Asset forfeiture laws govern when the government can TAKE YOUR PROPERTY. 

The CIVIL asset forfeiture laws are the ones that are so scary.  Under the civil forfeiture statutes, law enforcement can walk up, take (“seize”) your stuff and then just keep any property that they suspect may be involved in some kind of criminal activity.   Sounds like it’s CRIMINAL asset forfeiture, right? 

Well, here’s the difference:  in civil asset forfeiture, the Owner doesn’t even have to be charged, much less not found guilty, of any crime and still, he or she can lose their property to the cops.  And this can be any kind of property;  money, computers, cars, even someone’s HOME.

Added to this is the fact that in some states — like Texas and for example, Georgia — the local law enforcement agency is allowed to keep this property for its own coffers; there’s not any kind of state agency double-check, where property that’s been taken is forwarded to some regional clearinghouse or something. 

Oh, no.   Bottom line, for some law enforcement agencies, asset forfeiture is a profit-center.   

The 2010 asset forfeiture report by the Institute for Justice is the first of its kind.  No one has thought to undertake an national study of asset forfeiture in this country before now.   And it’s very, very frightening and frustrating to learn what’s going on.

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