DC Police Department Budgets Its Asset Forfeiture Proceeds Years In Advance

from the citizens-warned-to-convert-cash-to-unusable-bitcoins-in-case-of-PD-budget-shortf dept

Asset forfeiture may be the greatest scam perpetuated on the American people by their government — and it’s all legal. For the most part, assets seized translate directly to monetary or physical gains for the agencies doing the seizing, an act often wholly separated from any American ideals of due process.

The New York Times recently obtained recording of asset forfeiture conferences which showed prosecutors advising cops on how to best exploit these programs to obtain additional funds and goods for their respective law enforcement agencies. In short, it appears that many agencies use asset forfeiture to fill departmental shopping lists, rather than as the criminal syndicate-crippling action it was intended to be.

The Washington Post has been digging into the oft-abused programs for the last six weeks. The latest article in this series comes to similar conclusions about how the programs are viewed by law enforcement agencies.

D.C. police have made plans for millions of dollars in anticipated proceeds from future civil seizures of cash and property, even though federal guidelines say “agencies may not commit” to such spending in advance, documents show.

The city’s proposed budget and financial plan for fiscal 2015 includes about $2.7 million for the District police department’s “special purpose fund” through 2018. The fund covers payments for informants and rewards.

There’s a very good reason federal guidelines prohibit the counting of chickens asset forfeiture proceeds before they’re hatched “liberated” at badgepoint by law enforcement. It helps curtail the abuse that results from perverted incentives. No one likes a budget shortfall, but very few government entities have the means to immediately impact the bottom line — at least not in the way a few uniformed officers granted the power to arbitrarily seize the possessions of others can. No proof of criminal intent is needed and, thanks to an agreement with the DOJ, 80% of what it seizes goes directly to the District’s law enforcement agencies, rather than into the District’s general fund. All it takes to divert these funds to law enforcement is the invocation of federal crimes — like drug possession.

The very convenient DOJ agreement works out incredibly well.

District financial records show that D.C. police receive about $670,000 annually from the Equitable Sharing Program. About $30,000 in proceeds from forfeitures under District law go into the general fund.

The Justice Department refused to comment on its agreement with DC law enforcement, one that sees nearly 96% of funds derived from forfeitures go directly into the PD’s pockets. DC police chief Cathy Lanier defends the program — and the pre-budgeting of anticipated seizures — as being essential to “removing the profit gained from facilitating a crime.”

But what Lanier portrays as crippling criminal enterprises appears to be equally targeted towards separating users from their next fix — or simply separating random “suspects” from whatever they happen to have in their wallets.

Since 2009, D.C. officers have made more than 12,000 seizures under city and federal laws, according to records and data obtained from the city by The Washington Post through the District’s open records law. Half of the more than $5.5 million in cash seizures were for $141 or less, with more than a thousand for less than $20.

Because the system is primed for abuse, legislation has been introduced that would overhaul the city’s asset forfeiture program, raising the threshold of proof needed to justify a seizure as well as forcing a majority of funds to be routed into the city’s general fund. Unsurprisingly, cops aren’t fans of the proposed legislation.

[T]he bill has been opposed by law enforcement officials, partly for the same reason other reform efforts across the country have been stymied: money. The officials also said it would create an administrative burden. In addition to tightening oversight and the rules for civil seizures, the District proposal would cut back on revenue.

Also unsurprisingly, officials can pinpoint the presumed revenue loss with stunning accuracy.

In a fiscal impact statement Wednesday, the city’s chief financial officer, Jeffrey S. DeWitt, said that the bill “could reduce federal resources­ received by the District by approximately $670,000” each year if the general fund provision takes effect.

Which is exactly the amount the PD receives from the Share-With-The-DOJ plan. DC’s asset forfeiture program is beyond broken. When something starts out with the goal of crippling drug kingpins and ends up as an easy way to seize a mother’s vehicle because her son was busted for misdemeanor possession while driving it, it’s blatantly obvious that the program is serving no one but its direct beneficiaries.

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Crime vs 'Crime'

DC police chief Cathy Lanier defends the program — and the pre-budgeting of anticipated seizures — as being essential to “removing the profit gained from facilitating a crime.”

That’s a funny(though not in the ‘ha ha’ sense) thing to say, given the program seems to be creating more crime(in particular armed robbery) rather than decreasing it, by making it a very lucrative source of funds and ‘goodies’ that the police can tap into whenever they feel like it.

Seems the saying is wrong, crime does pay, extremely well at that according to the numbers, as long as you’ve got a badge to hide behind when you’re committing it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Crime vs 'Crime'

These types of forfeitures also create perverse incentives in terms of what constitutes a crime. Now government has more incentive to pass and maintain more laws to criminalize everything based on how much said law makes in forfeitures and not based on the public interest. More reason to turn everyone into a (victimless) criminal. Why repeal the war on drugs, it justifies more forfeitures which makes government more money. Who cares about whether or not this war serves the public interest. The war on drugs creates more police and gives them more stuff which is good regardless of how little the war itself or the laws themselves contribute to the public interest.

And say someone does have a lot of money and expensive items and it’s all legal. The city wants these items. They can think of some perverse and twisted new last minute law to pass specifically aimed at making something this person is doing illegal, make it something that will take this person a relatively long time to adjust to, and seize their property before they even knew what hit them or that the law changed.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Crime vs 'Crime'

but, i am absolutely certain that ALL the seized assets and cash are ALL cataloged, etc and turned in to the evidence lockers…
i am absolutely certain of that…
so, okay, yeah, maybe ‘The System’ has been perversely corrupted in a manner which rewards legalized shakedowns; but i am absolutely certain, that ALL the seized assets and cash are ALL accounted for and in custody of The State…
pretty certain…
has to be, right ? ? ?
i mean, the alternative, well, um, that’s not so good, so better to not think about that…

Cal (profile) says:

Re: Crime vs 'Crime'

US Constitution, which they ALL are REQUIRED to take an Oath to support and defend, plus to KEEP that Oath. It says that is NOT lawful right here. Remember the Bill of Rights states that natural rights are PROTECTED FROM those who served within our governments – federal and state.

Amendment IV: “The RIGHT OF THE PEOPLE TO BE SECURE IN THEIR PERSONS, HOUSES, PAPERS, AND EFFECTS, AGAINST UNREASONABLE SEARCHES AND SEIZURES, shall NOT BE VIOLATED, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

James Madison, the Father of the US Constitution: “Because if . . . [An Unalienable Natural Right of Free Men] . . . be exempt from the authority of the Society at large, still less can it be subject to that of the Legislative Body. The latter are but the creatures and vicegerents of the former. Their jurisdiction is both derivative and limited: It is limited with regard to the coordinate departments, more necessarily is it limited with regard to the constituents. The preservation of a free Government requires, not merely, that the metes and bounds which separate each department of power be invariably maintained: but more especially that neither of them be suffered to overleap the greater Barrier which defends the rights of the people. The Rulers who are guilty of such an encroachment, exceed the commission from which they derive their authority, and are Tyrants. The people who submit to it are governed by laws made neither by themselves nor by an authority derived from them, and are Slaves”

It is the nature of a right that it is – and must be – absolute. If there are codicils, appendices, restrictions, however, and buts, then it is a privilege, granted and controlled by others. Unknown

James Madison said: ““This term in its particular application means “that dominion which one man claims and exercises over the external things of the world, in exclusion of every other individual.”

In its larger and juster meaning, it embraces every thing to which a man may attach a value and have a right; and which leaves to every one else the like advantage.
In the former sense, a man’s land, or merchandise, or money is called his property.

In the latter sense, a man has a property in his opinions and the free communication of them.

He has a property of peculiar value in his religious opinions, and in the profession and practice dictated by them.

He has a property very dear to him in the safety and liberty of his person.

He has an equal property in the free use of his faculties and free choice of the objects on which to employ them.
In a word, as a man is said to have a right to his property, he may be equally said to have a property in his rights.

Where an excess of power prevails, property of no sort is duly respected. No man is safe in his opinions, his person, his faculties, or his possessions.

Where there is an excess of liberty, the effect is the same, though from an opposite cause.

Government is instituted to protect property of every sort; as well that which lies in the various rights of individuals, as that which the term particularly expresses. This being the end of government, that alone is a just government, which impartially secures to every man, whatever is his own.

According to this standard of merit, the praise of affording a just securing to property, should be sparingly bestowed on a government which, however scrupulously guarding the possessions of individuals, does not protect them in the enjoyment and communication of their opinions, in which they have an equal, and in the estimation of some, a more valuable property.

More sparingly should this praise be allowed to a government, where a man’s religious rights are violated by penalties, or fettered by tests, or taxed by a hierarchy. Conscience is the most sacred of all property; other property depending in part on positive law, the exercise of that, being a natural and unalienable right. To guard a man’s house as his castle, to pay public and enforce private debts with the most exact faith, can give no title to invade a man’s conscience which is more sacred than his castle, or to withhold from it that debt of protection, for which the public faith is pledged, by the very nature and original conditions of the social pact.

That is not a just government, nor is property secure under it, where the property which a man has in his personal safety and personal liberty, is violated by arbitrary seizures of one class of citizens for the service of the rest. A magistrate issuing his warrants to a press gang, would be in his proper functions in Turkey or Indostan, under appellations proverbial of the most complete despotism.

That is not a just government, nor is property secure under it, where arbitrary restrictions, exemptions, and monopolies deny to part of its citizens that free use of their faculties, and free choice of their occupations, which not only constitute their property in the general sense of the word; but are the means of acquiring property strictly so called. What must be the spirit of legislation where a manufacturer of linen cloth is forbidden to bury his own child in a linen shroud, in order to favor his neighbour who manufactures woolen cloth; where the manufacturer and wearer of woolen cloth are again forbidden the economical use of buttons of that material, in favor of the manufacturer of buttons of other materials!

A just security to property is not afforded by that government, under which unequal taxes oppress one species of property and reward another species: where arbitrary taxes invade the domestic sanctuaries of the rich, and excessive taxes grind the faces of the poor; where the keenness and competitions of want are deemed an insufficient spur to labor, and taxes are again applied, by an unfeeling policy, as another spur; in violation of that sacred property, which Heaven, in decreeing man to earn his bread by the sweat of his brow, kindly reserved to him, in the small repose that could be spared from the supply of his necessities.

If there be a government then which prides itself in maintaining the inviolability of property; which provides that none shall be taken directly even for public use without indemnification to the owner, and yet directly violates the property which individuals have in their opinions, their religion, their persons, and their faculties; nay more, which indirectly violates their property, in their actual possessions, in the labor that acquires their daily subsistence, and in the hallowed remnant of time which ought to relieve their fatigues and soothe their cares, the influence will have been anticipated, that such a government is not a pattern for the United States.

If the United States mean to obtain or deserve the full praise due to wise and just governments, they will equally respect the rights of property, and the property in rights: they will rival the government that most sacredly guards the former; and by repelling its example in violating the latter, will make themselves a pattern to that and all other governments.” (End Madison quote)

1. James Madison, “Property,” March 27, 1792, in William T. Hutchinson et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison, Vol. 14 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962–present), 266–68. Reproduced with permission of University of Chicago Press–Books in the format Textbook via Copyright Clearance Center.

Cal (profile) says:

Re: Re: Crime vs 'Crime'

Sorry, left this out.

US Constitution, Fourth Amendment: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Counter-productive programs

Another thing to consider: If asset forfeiture is meant to decrease crime by removing the profit from it, why is it that the amounts(both in numbers and worth) seized have increased over time, and significantly so?

If the amount seized is used as a rough indicator of the amount of crime, the fact that those numbers keep rising would seem to imply that the programs are only making the problem worse, not better. As such, they would seem to be failing pretty spectacularly in their stated purpose of decreasing crime.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Sent the money somewhere else

It appears you have accepted asset seizure, as presently implemented, and simply suggest that the “proceeds” go elsewhere.

I suggest that perhaps the money that was seized … shouldn’t have been seized in the first place.

Although seldom used, there are other ways in which ill gotten gains can be seized via court action. It’s a shame these laws were not used against banksters.

Anonymous Coward says:

All criminal organizations make this kind of budget. Whether you’re in the mafia, just selling drugs for a street gang, or walking the street as a government thug, you have a quota you’re expected to meet. Woe betide the junior member who doesn’t earn.

I’d be interested to know how this value compares to unreported theft, graft, and other kickbacks with which individual officers supplement their personal income.

David says:

Re: Re:

…And people say that this isn’t being used as legalised theft.

“legalised theft” is an oxymoron: it’s either legal or theft.

That being said: who are those “people” who claim this isn’t a form of institutionalized theft? I don’t think I’ve seen anyone characterise it differently. Law enforcement appears to be quite upfront about this being a means to extort money because the laws, for whatever reason, permit them to do this.

Anonymous Coward says:

Asset Forfeiture – because your representatives are too cheap to fund law enforcement via taxation.

This is just another of many cheap tricks in order to make the poor and middle class pay more than the rich elite ruling class for government services we all use.

Right wing nutters keep clamoring over and over about how socialist this nation has become, mostly based upon how the makers are forced to pay taxes and the takers are not. Not only is that wrong in its entirety, but the methods employed to make up for budget shortfalls in government services like police, fire, hospital, etc is horrific.

Bizarro Robin Hood needs to be stopped immediately.

David says:

What's the difference between "Forteiture" and "Bribery"

When you get a cop asking you if you have any money in your car, and you offer him some – that’s Bribery. If you get a cop asking you if you have any money in your car, and he takes it – that’s Forfeiture.

I think we ought to have bribery charges against any officer that takes money with no real probably cause, no arrest, and no charges.

Anonymous Coward says:

Well, if the “Law Enforcement Officers” are becoming the new highwaymen, then we should go back 150 years or so, as they are, and shoot them on sight. We should also confiscate all of their property as happened to highwaymen of the past. It worked then and will work now. Or is that the real reason the police are becoming “militarized”? This could become interesting.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: When this happened before, we were a feudal state.

That is to say that then we little people had no say, no representation, as it were, in the choosing of government policy.

There are proper vectors by which material value is to be collected from the people of the land… a rent or tax or somesuch, and I remember there was something about how that gave us a right to petition our government for redress of grievances.

It’s on the tip of my mind taxation without… cause for… continuation of politics by other means… something something social contract.

Didn’t the cops wear red then?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: When this happened before, we were a feudal state.

Your blather about “social contract” is intellectually and morally bankrupt, unless you believe a contract can be agreed to by being born– in which case, what is your problem with slavery?

Or do you actually think slavery is an acceptable institution?

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Social contract and inalienable rights are part of the same discussion.

The concept of social contract and natural rights were discussed during the 17th century, but considering this was a time in which the divine right of kings, slavery and the disregard of women as rights-holders was rampant, I’d say that at the time the philosophers suffered from a limited imagination.

(Frankly, I think natural rights is a misnomer. In the natural order, you only have those rights you can successfully defend, and so long as you can defend them. The notion that people should be equal under law is one that has to be enforced by a society that invokes a monopoly on force. Without that monopoly, without law enforcement, your rights cease to exist once someone with the power to take that right wills to do so.)

My reference to the social contract has to do with the agreement between civilians and law enforcement: The police has to protect the people and otherwise respect their rights in order to be worthy of taxes paid by the people to support them. When the cops start acting like bandits themselves, and the state agents disregard the rights of its people, they cease to deserve taxes pulled from the people.

Of course, the bureaucratic layers between the police and the taxes may be enough as to blind them of this relationship.

It sucks when I have to explain a joke. But maybe it wasn’t all that funny.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: When this happened before, we were a feudal state.

“unless you believe a contract can be agreed to by being born”

That’s not how the “social contract” works. You haven’t agreed to it by being born. It’s more like a clickwrap agreement — you agree to the “social contract” by taking part in society. If you don’t want to follow the social contract for a given society, you need to stop participating in it.

I never liked the use of the word “contract” in there because it implies some sort of legal basis. It’s no such thing. It’s just an acknowledgement that there are social rules that must be obeyed if you are to engage productively in the society. It’s part of how humans work. To acknowledge this fact is neither intellectually nor morally bankrupt — it’s being intellectually and morally honest.

Anonymous Coward says:

US v. $141 cash

So the claim is that the property is accused of a crime, and you have to go to court to prove that your goods aren’t guilty. So, let’s turn this around.

Go to court to recover your goods, but it should be the STATE that has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they should continue to hang on to your goods. You should be able to just show up and get it back if they don’t have sufficient hard evidence to support their suspicions.

I do think routing the items into the general fund is a good start, though.

GEMont (profile) says:

How to Build a Police State 101

According to what I’m reading about this, there is absolutely no accountability, at either end of the chain of command, as to how much an officer can steal from civilians or how much he must report as being the department’s share of the booty.

That means that individual cops can steal a man’s $500 paycheck after he’s just cashed it, and turn over $100 to the department as the day’s take. Or for that matter, rob 100 people of $500.00 each and simply turn over 20% to the department as the day’s take, and pocket the rest.

Who is going to know?

This system of reverse-law literally turns the police into highway robbers, purse snatchers and pickpockets, with a license to steal.

When; one wonders, does a modern day police officer, bent on improving his income through these legal means of street robbery, have time to pursue criminals??

I cannot think of a better method of transforming the normal American Police Forces into a Fascist Police State Army, than to make legislation that teaches the police that stealing the cash and property of civilians is not just OK, but a really great way to put their kids through college, while simultaneously outfitting those police in the latest military gear and weaponry and insuring that no officer can be held responsible by the courts for any action performed while in uniform, no matter how heinous the act might be.

In fact, I’d say that the process is probably just another aspect of the tried and true business model used by fascists, for turning any state into a police state, in order to liquidate its assets.

Captive Audience says:


It will end if it ever gets in front of the Suprme Court. Unfortunately every crooked cop, prosecutor and politician knows that the average person doesn’t have the time or money to fight for their rights. Even if they do fight it will be a decade if redress happens in their lifetime. Get out while you still can.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Reduce federal aid to police forces, dollar for dollar”

I don’t think that would have the deterrent effect we desire. But a small modification would: reduce federal aid by $2 for every $1 seized.

Or, even better, pass a law limiting or forbidding the practice.

“It’s only be used for the legitimate punishment of criminals.”

If the goal is punishment, then the entire thing needs to be done away with completely. The cops should not be punishing anybody, ever, for any reason. That’s for the courts to do, and the courts already have a (much more) powerful mechanism to extract money as a means of punishment.

Anonymous Coward says:

at what point does removing material from a corner of a block change it from a notched block to an ell?

at what point does asset forfeiture become theft?  i submit it’s when departments begin to depend on the assets and start making plans for future collection.

had we described this situation to americans even 50 years ago, they would have been aghast and would have said it wasn’t possible.  we aren’t that kind of country.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: We are exactly that kind of country.

Hitting enter while in the subject line posts the comment without a body or a verificaiton, I’ve discovered.

The Salem Witch Trials were driven partially due to the ability for the state to seize the property of those so accused.

The famous pressing to death of Giles Corey was on the basis that his property could be seized if he plead guilty or not guilty for being a warlock.

Anonymous Coward says:

That’s just precious, that ten grand can be in your pockets, and maybe twenty bucks is claimed as forfeited, so lather – rinse – repeat a thousand times and you’re starting to talk real money.
Who would bother to come around to claim the twenty, and who can prove that they were carrying the other 99.8%?

Is this a combination of shameful and shameless? Ouch.

Dave Cortright says:

Taking it to the next level

Given how this whole thing is escalating, I predict within the next year we will see police seizing a credit card or a check book and then “seizing” the entire credit limit/account balance.

Then why not to the absurd: the gold fillings in your teeth, the eyeglasses you are wearing, or how about one of your kidneys? That’ll fetch 5 figures on the organ market.

When questioned by the police, there are only 2 things you should ever say to them: “am I free to go?” and “I invoke my right to remain silent”.

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