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. Read the rest of this entry »


TAKEN: Use and Abuse of Civil Forfeiture

Under civil forfeiture, Americans who haven’t been charged with wrongdoing can be stripped of their cash, cars, and even homes. Is that all we’re losing?

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Clockwise from left: James Morrow, Javier Flores, Jennifer Boatright and her son Jacob, Dale Agostini, and Nelly Moreira. Many police budgets depend on money from forfeiture. Photographs by Ashley Gilbertson.

Clockwise from left: James Morrow, Javier Flores, Jennifer Boatright and her son Jacob, Dale Agostini, and Nelly Moreira. Many police budgets depend on money from forfeiture. Photographs by Ashley Gilbertson.

On a bright Thursday afternoon in 2007, Jennifer Boatright, a waitress at a Houston bar-and-grill, drove with her two young sons and her boyfriend, Ron Henderson, on U.S. 59 toward Linden, Henderson’s home town, near the Texas-Louisiana border. They made the trip every April, at the first signs of spring, to walk the local wildflower trails and spend time with Henderson’s father. This year, they’d decided to buy a used car in Linden, which had plenty for sale, and so they bundled their cash savings in their car’s center console. Just after dusk, they passed a sign that read “Welcome to Tenaha: A little town with BIG Potential!”

They pulled into a mini-mart for snacks. When they returned to the highway ten minutes later, Boatright, a honey-blond “Texas redneck from Lubbock,” by her own reckoning, and Henderson, who is Latino, noticed something strange. The same police car that their eleven-year-old had admired in the mini-mart parking lot was trailing them. Near the city limits, a tall, bull-shouldered officer named Barry Washington pulled them over.

He asked if Henderson knew that he’d been driving in the left lane for more than half a mile without passing.

No, Henderson replied. He said he’d moved into the left lane so that the police car could make its way onto the highway.

Were there any drugs in the car? When Henderson and Boatright said no, the officer asked if he and his partner could search the car.

Read the rest of this entry »