Police Can Take Your Property For No Reason - And Buy Crazy Things With It
Since 2008, local and state police authorities have spent nearly $2.5 billion of Americans' money to finance their departments with assets acquired through a federal program that is supposed to target criminals.
The Washington Post reports in an extensive investigation that about 5,400 departments and drug task forces have participated in the Justice Department’s Equitable Sharing Program, a federal program that gives local and state police the right to keep up to 80 percent of the assets they seize; the remaining 20 percent stays with the feds. What is particulary eggregious about this initiative is that it allows police departments and drug task forces to take people's property and assets without having to prove a crime has been committed.
The initiative was designed to dismantle drug organizations, but the Post found that some law enforcement organizations have used assets seized through the program to finance as much as 20 percent of their annual budgets. According to the Post:
The spending also included a $5 million helicopter for Los Angeles police; a mobile command bus worth more than $1 million in Prince George’s County; an armored personnel carrier costing $227,000 in Douglasville, Ga., population 32,000; $5,300 worth of “challenge coin” medallions in Brunswick County, N.C.; $4,600 for a Sheriff’s Award Banquet by the DoÃ±a Ana County (N.M.) Sheriff’s Department;
One law enforcement agency used seizure money to pay for a subscription to High Times, a magazine that caters to marijuana smokers.
The Equitable Sharing Program is tied to the post-9/11 era, when the feds encouraged state and local police to be the nation's "eyes and ears of homeland security on America’s highways," according to the Post. Since 9/11, there have been 61,998 cash seizures on highways and other locations without warrants and indictments.
State and local agencies aren't the only ones benefiting from the program. A small industry of private police-training firms are teaching the techniques of “highway interdiction” to departments across America. One of those firms created a private network called the Black Asphalt Electronic Networking & Notification System. It enabled police nationwide to share "reports about American motorists — criminals and the innocent alike — including their Social Security numbers, addresses and identifying tattoos, as well as hunches about which drivers to stop," according to the Washington Post.
Basically, it's a legal way for cops to steal your money without having to face much recourse. Some cops even go into chat rooms boasting about their seizures with trophy shots of money and drugs.
Deputy Ron Hain of Kane County, Ill., wrote in a self-published book that police departments should become "present-day Robin Hoods.” (Hain is a marketing specialist for Desert Snow, a leading interdiction training firm whose founders created Black Asphalt.)
Here are some shocking facts about how the cops are taking advantage of us, according to the Post:
- There have been 61,998 cash seizures made on highways and elsewhere since 9/11 without search warrants or indictments through the Equitable Sharing Program, totaling more than $2.5 billion. State and local authorities kept more than $1.7 billion of that while Justice, Homeland Security and other federal agencies received $800 million. Half of the seizures were below $8,800.
- Only a sixth of the seizures were legally challenged, in part because of the costs of legal action against the government. But in 41 percent of cases (4,455) where there was a challenge, the government agreed to return money. The appeals process took more than a year in 40 percent of those cases and often required owners of the cash to sign agreements not to sue police over the seizures.
- Hundreds of state and local departments and drug task forces appear to rely on seized cash, despite a federal ban on the money to pay salaries or otherwise support budgets. The Post found that 298 departments and 210 task forces have seized the equivalent of 20 percent or more of their annual budgets since 2008.
- Agencies with police known to be participating in the Black Asphalt intelligence network have seen a 32 percent jump in seizures beginning in 2005, three times the rate of other police departments. Desert Snow-trained officers reported more than $427 million in cash seizures during highway stops in just one five-year period, according to company officials. More than 25,000 police have belonged to Black Asphalt, company officials said.
- State law enforcement officials in Iowa and Kansas prohibited the use of the Black Asphalt network because of concerns that it might not be a legal law enforcement tool. A federal prosecutor in Nebraska warned that Black Asphalt reports could violate laws governing civil liberties, the handling of sensitive law enforcement information and the disclosure of pretrial information to defendants. But officials at Justice and Homeland Security continued to use it.
What does this say about America and our civil liberties? “Those laws were meant to take a guy out for selling $1 million in cocaine or who was trying to launder large amounts of money,” Mark Overton, the police chief in Bal Harbour, FL who once oversaw a federal drug task force in South Florida told the Post. “It was never meant for a street cop to take a few thousand dollars from a driver by the side of the road.”
The Equitable Sharing Program may have had positive intentions, but it seems to be doing nothing more than seizing American citizens' money to finance law enforcement agencies and contributing to the loss of trust between Americans civilians and their police departments.