Tiny California Towns Have Big Asset Forfeiture Histories

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New report shows municipalities bolstering ailing budgets with seizures

 writes: The Drug Policy Alliance has a big new report out today showing how a pack of small cities in Southern California are using and abusing the federal civil asset forfeiture program to get more money for their departments in the wake of budget woes. The report, researched and written by drug policy journalist Jonah Engle, also shows how little oversight the Department of Justice actually demonstrates over municipal and law enforcement forfeiture behavior that appears to violate guidelines for participation in the program.Policecash

“The reason is pretty simple: California’s asset forfeiture law allows law enforcement agencies to keep only a maximum of 65 percent of the money they seize.”

What do the cities of Vernon, Baldwin Park, Beverly Hills, Gardena, Irwindale, La Verne, Pomona, and South Gate have in common? They’re all comparatively small cities in Los Angeles County ranging in population from just 112 (Vernon) to 149,058 (Pomona). Yet these cities, combined, have collected more than $43 million in asset forfeiture between 2006 and 2013, according to the report.

“The federal program allows law enforcement agencies to keep 80 percent. There’s just more money in turning to the feds and ignoring the state.”

That’s 60 percent more than the Los Angeles Police Department took in during that time frame, even though these combined municipalities still have only a fraction of the population of Los Angeles. The report breaks it down even further to help readers grasp the differences. Irwindale has a population of 1,422 people and has collected more than $800,000 in forfeited assets.

“Civil asset forfeiture was never intended to supplant law enforcement budgeting.”

Bakersfield has a population of 349,000 but collected only $571,796 during the same time. Vernon isn’t even so much a city as it is a large industrial hub with a history of corruption. Despite having almost no residents, it brought in nearly $1 million in federal asset forfeiture funds during this time.

These forfeitures and the partnerships between municipal police and federal agencies rose as the economy of California slid into a slump. Forfeitures through the federal Equitable Sharing Program have tripled while forfeitures using the state’s process have remained flat (and much lower). The reason is pretty simple: California’s asset forfeiture law allows law enforcement agencies to keep only a maximum of 65 percent of the money they seize. The federal program allows law enforcement agencies to keep 80 percent. There’s just more money in turning to the feds and ignoring the state. This has been a consistent problem with efforts by states to reform their asset forfeiture laws to make them less open to abuse or corruption. Law enforcement agencies just turn to the Department of Justice, with its looser rules, instead….(read more)

Reason.com



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