New York City Council Passes Bill Making NYPD's Forfeiture Process More Transparent

from the no-more-hiding-behind-clunky-software dept

For months now, the NYPD has been arguing in court it can’t possibly hand over records related to its forfeitures. The problem appears to be the NYPD itself. The department spent millions on new software specifically to track the disposition of seized items. But when faced with a public records suit by the Bronx Defenders, the NYPD claimed the software can’t do the one thing it’s supposed to do: track the disposition of seized items.

The NYPD provides limited reporting on forfeitures, but the numbers produced have almost zero relation to reality. According to the NYPD, it only forfeited $12,000 in cash in 2015. According to numbers obtained by the Bronx Defenders, the NYPD’s forfeiture office had nearly $69 million in cash on hand when queried in 2013 — something that would take 5,750 years to amass at the rate cited by the NYPD. Not only that, but other documents showed NYPD property clerks were processing thousands of dollars every month, totaling $6 million in forfeiture transactions in 2013 alone. It seems unlikely the NYPD’s forfeitures dropped to this impossibly-low level between 2013 and 2015.

But still the NYPD insists it can’t make its cradle-to-grave forfeiture-tracking system produce the stats Bronx Defenders are looking for. It needs to figure out its issues soon. The city council is calling the NYPD’s bluff.

Every year the NYPD seizes millions of dollars in assets from innocent New Yorkers, who often have to fight a dizzying bureaucracy to get their property back. But today the City Council is poised to pass legislation that would make the practice vastly more transparent.

The bill, which is expected to pass this afternoon, will require the NYPD to release annual reports on how much they seize from New Yorkers during stops and arrests and through the use of civil forfeiture, and account for what happens to the assets after they’re in custody.

“This first-of-its-kind transparency bill will shed light on the reasons why the NYPD has seized someone’s property, whether revenue is generated from property seizure, and if an individual has been able to get their property back,” said Bronx Councilman Ritchie Torres, the bill’s primary sponsor. “The legislation will help ensure that the civil forfeiture process is used legitimately.”

The bill has indeed passed and institutes new reporting requirements for the NYPD.

This bill requires the NYPD to report on an annual basis on data relating to the property and money the department obtains possession of in the course of an arrest. The bill requires the data be broken down to include the amount of money or the property obtained and retained, the reason why the property or money is being held by the department, and whether or not the rightful owners of the property or money have failed to redeem such money or property. Additionally, the bill requires the NYPD to report on any sale or disposition of money or property seized during an arrest that was retained by the Department.

This forces the NYPD to provide information proactively. It can no longer hide behind claims of faulty software or a particularly labyrinthine public records process. It won’t force the NYPD to say how the money’s being spent, but will at least provide more transparency and accountability. The new data should make it slightly easier to identify abuse and could assist those fighting to reclaim their property. All it needs is the governor’s signature to make it official.

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Comments on “New York City Council Passes Bill Making NYPD's Forfeiture Process More Transparent”

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28 Comments
Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Civil Asset Forfeiture Requirements

Not being a lawyer, and not familiar with NY law, I seem to remember that assets are sued in court with the excuse that they were proceeds from criminal activity. Even though the people the assets are seized from are not often charged, the assets are still supposed to be the product of said criminal activity. How does NYPD justify the seizing of assets and have no record of what criminal activity they are supposed to be the proceeds of, even if it is just the money looked guilty because of furtive movements?

Do they go to court and sue the assets, as in other jurisdictions, or do they just make the claim and keep the asset? If they do have to go to court, how do they justify the claim to the court with no documentation? If they do go to court and have documentation, then why can’t they find it now?

TechDescartes (profile) says:

There Was an Easier Way

The legislation will help ensure that the civil forfeiture process is used legitimately.

Why not pass legislation to ensure the protection of New Yorkers’ rights by requiring a criminal conviction before civil asset forfeiture can be pursued in the first place?

I bet the governor of Connecticut might even let you copy for free the bill he signed earlier this month, though Arizona’s April version may be better. Or, change a few words on Lady Liberty’s base: "Give me your cash, your car…"

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: There Was an Easier Way

“Why not pass legislation to ensure the protection of New Yorkers’ rights by requiring a criminal conviction before civil asset forfeiture can be pursued in the first place?”

They were passed before any of us were born. It is called the 4th and 5th amendments.

If they are ignoring the old rules, they are not going to follow the new rules. Educating yourself would be helpful. Might as well just ask the liars, cheats, and thieves to start behaving… oh wait… that IS what you are doing.

Next time just write your congress critter and say…

“Because I do not see you upholding the Constitution, we are not voting you back in, or donating to your campaigns.”

Once enough of us do that, the problem will be resolved.

Daydream says:

Re: There Was an Easier Way

Perhaps we should get the police to uphold the existing laws before passing any new legislation, mm?

Personally, I think just one small change needs to be made; when bringing cases of civil asset forfeiture, it should be the police, as the plaintiffs, who bear the burden of proof. Not the owners of the assets.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: It's NYPD

Indeed. the NYPD has been accused of commiting MORE crimes than a good section of the population they’re supposed to protect.

Including assasinations (for money), rape, murder, torture, kidnapping and sending (illegally) immigrants to foreign hostile governments (without informing relevant authorities but taking large pay checks).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: It's NYPD

..of course it’s the “NYPD” at fault — but what is the “NYPD” ??
It is real people who are NOT being held accountable.

Here’s the real leadership of NYPD:

NYPD Police Commissioner — James P. O’Neill
!st Deputy Commissioner — Benjamin B. Tucker

Deputy Commissioners:
Administration: Cathleen S. Perez
Information Technology: Jessica S. Tisch
Internal Affairs: Joseph J. Reznick
Legal Matters: Lawrence Byrne
Management and Budget: Vincent Grippo
Operations: Dermot Shea
Public Information: Stephen P. Davis
Trials: Rosemarie Maldonado

Chief of Departments — Carlos M. Gomez
Bureau Chiefs:
Chief Of Staff: Raymond Spinella
Citywide Operations: Thomas P. Purtell
Community Affairs: Joanne Jaffe
Counterterrorism: James Waters
Crime Control Strategies: Dermot F. Shea
_______________________________

…you’re totally right that the above people (NYPD) don’t obey current laws and will just ignore this stupid new City Council bill. If the City Council was serious about this… they would drag the Police Commissioner into their chamber ans demand immediate changes. But the Council is not serious. This stupid bill is an easy way of just avoiding the issue.

That One Guy (profile) says:

More delaying a bluff rather than calling it

Given this is the NYPD we’re talking about unless there are some hefty and personal penalties for refusal to comply, I suspect this won’t do as much as the lawmakers hope.

The NYPD will still ‘struggle’ to find any relevant paperwork, taking weeks or even months to ‘sort through the system’ only to find out that whoops, it seems the records weren’t filed correctly and it might take a bit longer to find them, if the records weren’t ‘accidentally’ destroyed or someone forgot to write them up in the first place.

If they really wanted to crack down on the practice they should have passed a law requiring at a minimum a conviction of the owner of the property and a showing that the property in question was either used in, or the fruits of, illegal activity, with heavy fines levied personally against any officer and their superior(s) who kept property without meeting this basic requirement.

Systemic and massive robbery of the public isn’t something you deal with by shaking your fist and asking politely for the robbers to start keeping track of who stole what, it’s something you come down on hard until the lesson is learned.

Anonymous Coward says:

NYPD will fight tooth and nail to prevent the data coming out.

Because they they’ll have to say what they DID with the money, and it basically goes straight into the higher-ups personal bank accounts and vanishes from the record.

The top 10 officers in the NYPD “somehow” have 10s of millions in their personal portfolios which is many times higher than their wage.

They even joke about having an Official and an Unofficial Salary…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Exactly.

"…obtains possession of in the course of an arrest."

Obvious result: Arrest rates plummet so the asset forfeiture remains at currently reported levels while the actual "take" from the inevitable aforementioned "Stop and Seize" program also remains unchanged.

That phrase is a loophole big enough to drive a Mac truck through!

Anonymous Coward says:

Maybe if there existed a police department to police the criminal police there would be less problems.

Wait that does exist, its called the FBI, and there are laws against crooked police so what is the enforcement problem that stops enforcement?

Wait we know what that is it called integrity.

Why do federal prosecutors fail to prosecute crooked police?

After all depriving one of their civil rights is a federal crime.

orbitalinsertion (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Maybe if there existed a police department to police the criminal police there would be less problems.

Maybe this idea could be popularized through Fantasy Law Enforcement leagues. There could be stat pages for actually good cops and other law enforcement officers, and you could create your own Dream Police (Police-Police) who would take on corrupt or problematic officers and organizations.

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