12 November 2013

When Did "Serve And Protect" Become "Seize and Profit"?

When Did "Serve And Protect" Become "Seize and Profit"?


Civil asset forfeiture sounds like a a dry legal term, but it has a deeper impact on people’s lives and our justice system than you might expect. It’s a practice that threatens property rights, rewards discriminatory policing, and has interesting and unexpected connections with the violations of constitutional rights that have come to define the “war on terror.” Civil asset forfeiture refers to the process of law enforcement seizing property — like cars, money, or houses — suspected of being involved in, or paid for by, illicit activities. This occurs without a charge or conviction because bizarrely, civil forfeiture law names the property itself as the defendant in the lawsuit, rendering the owner’s innocence irrelevant. It is difficult if not impossible to challenge civil asset forfeiture, and police disproportionately apply this practice to poor people, immigrants, and people of color who are already disempowered by the legal system.

Law enforcement can then keep the goods or, through a loophole in federal law called “equitable sharing,” apply the funds they seize directly to their department. Allowing police to keep the profits creates a conflict of interest that incentivizes seizing property regardless of whether that serves public safety. Theoretically, the money and goods could go towards preventing crime, but many police departments have misused their funds, buying things like $10,000 worth of Gatorade or nine flat screen televisions costing $8,200.

Read more at People's Blog for the Constitution.

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