Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Exporting corruption

Last month, a South Tucson, AZ, cop who ran his department's asset forfeiture program was convicted of stealing over $560,000 from it. This month, the cop who handles asset forfeiture funds in Spring Lake, NC, was arrested for stealing $2,900. Another cop was arrested for having seized the money in a hotel room under false pretenses.

Will these arrests "fix" asset forfeiture, or will corrupt cops simply learn that it's safer to pocket some of the money they seize before it's officially counted? Retired police captain Peter Christ of L.E.A.P. suggests this is already common.

Under civil asset forfeiture, police can seize money or property upon "probable cause" that it was connected to a crime. The onus then falls on the owner to prove innocence. Police departments use the proceeds to help fund their budgets.

"Probable cause" can include the mere fact of carrying a large amount of cash, or a police dog's sniff of drug residue on your property. One may have a legitimate reason for carrying the cash, and the residue may have been left over from the previous owner. It doesn't matter. The police can seize your property to enrich their departments, and it's often too risky and expensive for you to fight for its return.

Civil asset forfeiture breeds corruption. It's immoral and unconstitutional. But instead of abolishing it, the U.S. is exporting it...

The State Department has faulted Mexico for its lack of asset forfeiture laws. U.S. Marshalls are instructing the Mexican government on asset forfeiture. The World Bank and the United Nations have co-published a guide to help developing countries implement asset forfeiture procedures. The U.S. contributes billions to these institutions.

The supposed reason to promote asset forfeiture abroad is to "fight corruption." But giving law enforcement the arbitrary power to seize personal property is like combating ignorance by censoring newspapers, or strengthening democracy by arresting opposition leaders. Civil asset forfeiture is inherently corrupt and it may be about to get worse...

It's long been assumed that as a recession leads to budget crunches, police tend to write more speeding tickets for the revenue. There's now solid evidence to demonstrate this. We can surmise then that police will also increase searches, raids, and seizures to generate more revenue.

Original report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

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