Wednesday, December 3, 2014

D.C. council votes to ban 'policing for profit'

Washington, D.C. Council Votes to Reform City's Civil Forfeiture Laws, Ban Policing for Profit - Forbes - Nick Sibilla, Institute for Justive:

December 3, 2014 - "The Council of the District of Columbia voted unanimously on Tuesday in favor of overhauling the city’s civil forfeiture laws, which lets police seize property from people never charged with a crime. Law enforcement can then pocket all of the proceeds gained from forfeiture.

"The Civil Asset Forfeiture Amendment Act of 2014 stabs at the heart of what makes civil forfeiture so potentially corrupting: Letting cops and prosecutors keep what they forfeit creates 'at best, the appearance of a conflict of interest, and at worst, an unchecked incentive for slush funds,' remarked Councilman Tommy Wells, who authored the reform. If the bill becomes law, Washington, D.C. would join just eight states that ban policing for profit. Rather than padding law enforcement budgets, any revenue generated with civil forfeiture instead would be deposited into the general fund.

"Lawmakers in D.C. also approved closing a loophole that could otherwise undercut this reform. Under equitable sharing, local and state law enforcement can pocket up to 80 percent of forfeiture proceeds if they refer forfeiture cases to a federal agency, which then moves to forfeit the property under federal law. The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) has routinely participated in this program, spending over $3.3 million in equitable sharing funds since 2008.

 "Equitable sharing undermines state efforts to curb forfeiture abuse. For instance, both Missouri and North Carolina ban law enforcement from keeping what they seize through civil forfeiture under their state laws. Yet equitable sharing has let police and prosecutors generate millions through this federal forfeiture program....

"Besides removing the temptation to police for profit, the District’s Civil Asset Forfeiture Amendment Act would also strengthen protections for property owners. For many cases, the reform would raise the amount of evidence the government would need to take property. For cars and other motor vehicles, the government would have to show 'clear and convincing evidence' that a vehicle was used in the commission of a crime. Likewise, the bill would create a presumption that cash under $1,000 is not forfeitable.... In another vital reform, the government could only take someone’s home if the owner was convicted of a crime first. This would prevent the District from turning into Philadelphia, where law enforcement has taken nearly 1,200 homes and other real estate properties through civil forfeiture."

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