City Attorneys train local cops to use "wish lists" for civil forfeiture

In "continuing education" seminars, cops are instructed to be on the lookout for people with nice stuff that can be easily resold, figure out a crime that those people might be guilty of, and tell the City Attorney so that that stuff can be grabbed through "civil forfeiture."

Don't go after computers or jewelry, because they're too hard to sell — instead, look for nice cars and big TVs.

Civil forfeiture, conceived of as part of the War on Drugs, is now used to take the property of people charged with sex crimes and shoplifting. Today's law enforcement seminars include guidelines for getting past the problem of "innocent owners" who are not accused of the crimes for which their property (including their home!) is being seized — for example, the poor, elderly Philadelphia couple whose house was seized because their grandson was accused of selling $40 worth of drugs on their porch.

Secret videos from the law enforcement seminars catch city attorneys like Harry S Connelly Jr (Las Cruces, NM) mocking the people they steal from, making fun of Hispanics whose cars are seized, describing the goods taken by police as "little goodies." Civil forfeiture procedures are often not adjudicated by a judge, but rather by a District Attorney whose own department will get part of the proceeds from the sale of the seized goods.

Police forces use proceeds from the sale of forfeited goods to pay for parties and sports tickets for their employees.

In the sessions, officials share tips on maximizing profits, defeating the objections of so-called "innocent owners" who were not present when the suspected offense occurred, and keeping the proceeds in the hands of law enforcement and out of general fund budgets. The Times reviewed three sessions, one in Santa Fe, N.M., that took place in September, one in New Jersey that was undated, and one in Georgia in September that was not videotaped.

Officials offered advice on dealing with skeptical judges, mocked Hispanics whose cars were seized, and made comments that, the Institute for Justice said, gave weight to the argument that civil forfeiture encourages decisions based on the value of the assets to be seized rather than public safety. In the Georgia session, the prosecutor leading the talk boasted that he had helped roll back a Republican-led effort to reform civil forfeiture in Georgia, where seized money has been used by the authorities, according to news reports, to pay for sports tickets, office parties, a home security system and a $90,000 sports car.

Police Use Department Wish List When Deciding Which Assets to Seize [Shaila Dewan/NYT]

(via Hacker News)

(Image: Keystone Kops, public domain)