Civil asset forfeitures are getting a huge amount of press lately, and for good reason. The practice, whereby local and federal law enforcement officers confiscate assets that have even remote connections to crimes, has been on the rise in recent years, and the large majority of civil asset forfeiture cases have corruption written all over them. A recent article in the New York Times outlines how law enforcement officials are using “wish lists” to determine what they are going to seize from the populace. Videos have surfaced of training sessions wherein prosecutors explain the value and practice of civil asset forfeitures to police:
. . . Often the first hearing [to determine the validity of an asset forfeiture] is presided over not by a judge but by the prosecutor whose office benefits from the proceeds, and who has wide discretion in deciding whether to forfeit the property or return it, sometimes in exchange for a steep fine.
Mr. [Sean] McMurtry [chief of the forfeiture unit in the Mercer County, N.J., prosecutor’s office] said his handling of a case is sometimes determined by department wish lists. “If you want the car, and you really want to put it in your fleet, let me know — I’ll fight for it,” Mr. McMurtry said, addressing law enforcement officials on the video. “If you don’t let me know that, I’ll try and resolve it real quick through a settlement and get cash for the car, get the tow fee paid off, get some money for it.”
Frankly, this is disgusting. But let’s not forget that fleecing the public is already firmly stitched into the fabric of law enforcement. Police officers make money for their departments by lying in wait for largely harmless “offenders” and giving out tickets with attached fines. So civil asset forfeitures just follow in that same line. Anything for a quick buck for the police department, I guess. Forget protect and serve. It’s all about collect and unnerve.