National Police Union President Says Asset Forfeiture Abuse Is A 'Fake Issue' Generated By The Media

from the scapegoating-a-check-against-government-power dept

Chuck Canterbury, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police, has been given an editorial megaphone over at the Daily Caller. Canterbury’s using this platform to defend the pretty much indefensible: civil asset forfeiture.

Colloquially known as “cops going shopping for things they want,” asset forfeiture supposedly is used to take funds and property away from criminal organizations. In reality, it’s become an easy way for law enforcement to take the property of others without having to put much effort into justifying the seizures. In most states, convictions are not required, meaning supposed criminal suspects are free to go… but their property isn’t.

Canterbury, who previously aired his grievances nationally over director Quentin Tarantino’s participation in an anti-police brutality rally, opens up this piece by trying to equate factual reporting with current hot button topic “fake news.”

Amidst the current national furor against “fake news” is another, more pervasive issue of creating “fake issues” like the myth of policing for profit. There’s been widespread discussion about the need to end the Federal equitable sharing program because a journalist or columnist writes a sympathetic piece describing a case in which the system may not have functioned as intended.

Canterbury admits the “system” doesn’t always “function as intended” (although many could argue these cases illustrate the system working exactly as intended), but argues that every report about a questionable seizure is the equivalent of fake news. Innocent people being deprived of their property by profit-focused law enforcement agencies is a “fake issue” — something that apparently wouldn’t be covered by a more responsible press.

As is the case any time law enforcement agencies feel compelled to defend their most questionable actions, Canterbury places the blame on the media:

At a time when the number of officers is declining, federal assistance to state and local agencies is evaporating and deliberate attacks on law enforcement officers are rising, how can this issue be a law enforcement priority? Why are anecdotal accounts in the media suddenly making this a priority in the editorial pages of some newspapers?

Oddly, Canterbury views reports backed by court documents and judicial orders as “anecdotal.” This may be because asset forfeiture doesn’t have much to do with anything normal people consider to be “facts” or “evidence.” Very little beyond the anecdotal is needed to permanently separate citizens from their property, as Fault Lines’ David Meyer Lindenberg points out:

Once the feds had made their showing of probable cause, the burden, then as now, shifted to the claimant to prove his property wasn’t the proceeds or instrumentality of a crime. Needless to say, that requires him to prove a negative. Even better, while the government only had to show probable cause, the claimant, in proving his negative, had to prove it by a higher standard: a preponderance of the evidence.

There were countless other inequities, like the fact that the government could use hearsay as evidence while claimants couldn’t. All in all, the deck was about as stacked against property owners as one could imagine.

That was how forfeiture worked back in the 1980s, before reform efforts were put into place. Pretty much indistinguishable from now, after the passage of the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act (CAFRA) in 2000 — something Canterbury claims shows he’s on the right side of history with his pro-forfeiture arguments.

The FOP does not disagree that there is a need for civil asset forfeiture reform. In fact, we worked very closely with Senator Jeff Sessions on this issue going back to the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act (CAFRA) of 2000.

The law enforcement community came together to make the necessary changes to the program to ensure due process protections while preserving equitable sharing as a critical law enforcement tool.

This is Canterbury’s bid for being perceived as then good guy heading a union full of officers and agencies being unfairly misrepresented by media clickbaitery. Lindenberg points out that pretty much the entirety of the “reform” in the 2000 reform act was the placing of the word “reform” in the bill’s title.

Before CAFRA, “fungible” property could be forfeited even if the government couldn’t tie the assets before it to a crime, but only in money laundering cases. CAFRA extended that provision to all civil asset forfeiture cases.

CAFRA reinstated the fugitive disentitlement doctrine, which banned fugitives in criminal cases from trying to recover their assets.

CAFRA amended 28 U.S.C. § 2461 to authorize criminal forfeiture whenever civil forfeiture was allowed. This let the government seize people’s assets before they were tried on criminal charges, thus potentially depriving them of the ability to fund their defense.

Canterbury worked with Sessions (himself a forfeiture fan who has stated the only thing it does is take stuff from people who’ve “done nothing more than sell dope their whole lives”) to weaken this reform effort. A more serious reform effort never had a chance. This is a list of the concessions given to law enforcement in exchange for giving citizens an incrementally-better chance at recovering wrongfully seized property.

The biggest lie in Canterbury’s editorial is also the most expected: that asset forfeiture is actually having an effect on criminal activity.

For over 30 years, the asset forfeiture program has allowed law enforcement to deprive criminals of both the proceeds and tools of crime. The resources provided by the equitable sharing program have allowed agencies to participate in joint task forces to thwart and deter serious criminal activity and terrorism, purchase equipment, provide training upgrade technology, engage their communities, and better protect their officers. It has been remarkably successful.

Sure, that was the theory. In actuality, billions of dollars have flowed into law enforcement agencies with barely any diminishment in the amount of drugs flowing into the country. It may seem like the use of forfeited funds to purchase law enforcement equipment lightens the load on taxpayers but that’s only if you don’t consider any person whose property has been seized without evidence to not be part of the pool of taxpayers.

Using these funds is also a boon for cash-strapped cities and towns, and they’re in no hurry to have to start looking for other revenue streams if this one dries up. So, there’s plenty of internal opposition to forfeiture reform efforts as well.

Canterbury keeps going back to the claim he can’t back up: that asset forfeiture has done anything else other than enrich the law enforcement agencies participating in it. He wraps up his editorial with the standard cop rhetorical device: our word against yours.

[T]o end a decades-long program which is worth hundreds of millions of dollars to our nation’s communities and has documented success in deterring and fighting crime based on anecdotal media reports is simply not sound public policy.

Unfortunately for Canterbury, his claim of “documented success” is at least as anecdotal as the media reports he appears to feel have turned the nation against this honorable practice of taking money from alleged criminals without going through the process of actually proving any criminal activity took place. But when you’re used to separating people from property using little more than hearsay and hunches, I’m sure anything that contradicts your narrative looks like nothing more than hysteria urged on by an irresponsible press.

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Comments on “National Police Union President Says Asset Forfeiture Abuse Is A 'Fake Issue' Generated By The Media”

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That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

I’m sure that the cases of cops raping minors is just fake news.
I’m sure that the cases of cops getting witnesses killed is just fake news.
I’m sure that the cases of cops stealing from cop charities is just fake news.
I’m sure that the cases of cops covering up & lying in shootings is just fake news.
I’m sure that the cases of cops beating handcuffed people is just fake news.
I’m sure that the cases of cops running black sites is just fake news.
I’m sure that the cases of cops claiming unarmed suspects made them fear for their lives is just fake news.

Only thing I think I am sure of is this guy is a liar, who is issuing statements devoid of fact to score points with a barrel that defends its bad apples.

Anonymous Coward says:

At a time when the number of officers is declining, federal assistance to state and local agencies is evaporating and deliberate attacks on law enforcement officers are rising, how can this issue be a law enforcement priority?

What exactly does ending this program have to do with his "law enforcement priorities?"

You don’t make the law, jackass.

There’s nothing for you to prioritize.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Actually his argument is the worst kind of slippery slope.

If the budgets and support for the police are very bad, why remove a law that is deemed as unfair and deny the police of a way to make money?

Their windfall is the doom of their support from the public and should end their delusions of who/what they serve.

As soon as you need to budget with income from fines and seizures as a significant portion of a budget, your priorities are bound to get funked up from a legal perspective.

Anonymous Coward says:

In case anyone isn’t aware, the man who incorrectly believes he invented email as we know it, Shiva Ayyadurai, is suing Techdirt.

It also appears he’s suing or threatening to sue Gizmodo? As evidenced by this article being taken down with “This story is no longer available as it is the subject of pending litigation against the prior owners of this site.”:

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I’m sure TD can’t talk about it until after they win in court. Then they can add a little icon of the liar with a line through it and sell ten thousand shirts for everyone who supports them against insane lies perpetrated by someone with access to seemingly limitless lawyer hours. I am certain multiple pro bono lawyers will support TD in return for fee awards once the lies are resolved once and for all.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I’m quite certain that the case will be dropped before it reaches that point. The last thing Shiva wants is to have the actual evidence on the matter on display, in court, for all to see.

If I had to guess this is likely both a continuation of the tantrum against people saying mean things about him and intended as a message to anyone else who might dare to question his ‘fame’. It’s intended to ‘punish’ TD/Mike for daring to question the ‘official narrative’ by dragging them through very expensive legal fight, which will almost certainly be dropped when it reaches the point where Mike can present his defense and the evidence thereof, and/or dragged on as long as possible to make the costs as high as possible for TD.

bt says:

The fact that a person has a perch at The Daily Caller tells you all you need to know about that person.

I expect that he is also ready to do appearances on Hannity to discuss how awful all of the people are whose things have been confiscated, and about how mean all the nasty liberals and dark-skinned people have been to the police these days.

Cops and Conservatives have always been a happy match. Because conservatives know that police misconduct is mostly aimed at “other people”, who they mostly believe deserve the bad treatment that the cops dish out to them.

trollificus (profile) says:

Re: Re:

That’s…brilliant! And exactly true.

I’m not one to get hysterical about what are mostly stylistic affronts emanating from Trump, and consider his election an ill-considered if understandable yuge orange middle finger directed at a self-appointed elite.

That said, the appointment of Sessions for AG is an absolute worst-case scenario. Sessions’ comments about civil asset forfeiture (or, more accurately, “random spontaneous law enforcement tax surcharge collections”) are perhaps the most “divorced from reality” on any subject I have ever heard. Not just from politicians, but anywhere. And I’ve read YouTube comment threads!

Surely it will be a test of Trumps’ own ability to do simple political calculations. Cops only have so much political power. Their victims, and the tens of millions of American citizens who obviously WANT THEIR DAMN DRUGS have many multiples of that power. If Trump reconsiders this appointment, or allows it to fail without doubling down or investing much political capital in pushing it, that will be a welcome sign, of, at least, a degree of pragmatism and rationality.

IF, otoh, he really thinks Sessions should be AG…well, it will mean some of the hysterically-expressed fears of the Trump administration were justified. The silver lining would be the increased likelihood of a single-term Presidency.

Cris Hernandez says:

Hernandez v. Brewer

On January 3,2017, No. 16-848, was filed and subsequently docketed on January 5, 2017, as No 16-848, with the Supreme Court of the United States, Office of the Clerk, Washington, DC 20543-0001. Arizona State Prosecutors fabricated evidence (wiretaps), in an attempt to seize property. I was never convicted of a crime. Fabricating wiretap material is a crime. Retired U.S. Army Officer.

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