Cop Cleans Out Wallet Of Unlicensed Hot Dog Vendor Just Because He Can
from the small-ball dept
No job too small. That’s asset forfeiture for you. But small jobs are the safest jobs when it comes to the government keeping someone else’s property. Keeping the seizures small makes it less likely they’ll be challenged by those whose property was taken.
The year-end totals may look impressive, but behind those totals are lots and lots of tiny cash grabs. In the cases where agencies’ forfeitures have been itemized and examined (which is a rarity — there’s a ton of opacity in forfeiture reporting), the largest number of forfeitures are for the smallest amounts, usually well under $1,000.
Officers take what they can because they can. A video going viral on Twitter shows a California police officer rummaging through the wallet of an unlicensed street vendor and taking the vendor’s cash and debit card. A citation and a shutdown of the hot dog stand should have been enough. But it wasn’t. Officer Sean Aranas decided — with the only citation handed out during the football game — to take the man’s earnings.
UC Berkeley Police ?? y'all some punk ass bitches a ticket is understandable but to take his money away fuck the police pic.twitter.com/B8j2UcvREG
— Moreno (@Moreno) September 10, 2017
The backlash has been swift. A crowdfunding page for the vendor — identified only as “Juan” — has already raised more than $30,000. A petition demanding the firing of Officer Aranas has gathered 11,000 signatures. And it’s gotten the attention of his employer:
UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof offered a brief statement Sunday evening: “We are aware of the incident. The officer was tasked with enforcing violations related to vending without a permit on campus. UCPD is looking into the matter.”
The UCPD says the money taken from the vendor has been booked into evidence. If so, it’s just another way the PD can keep Juan’s money, even after he’s paid his fine and obtained a permit. This can happen even if the citation is dropped. Money booked into evidence just stays there unless someone’s willing to fight uphill against a system designed to keep citizens from their seized property. It’s not quite as difficult or expensive as fighting a forfeiture in court, but it’s still an arduous process involving a lot of people (cops, prosecutors) with zero interest in returning people’s property.
There will be a number of people pointing out Juan should have just secured a permit. True, that would have prevented this from happening, but it’s a bit like saying cops are justified in taking cash from anyone at any time if a law has been violated. Juan’s violation is a misdemeanor. It’s like saying a cop should be able to take cash/debit cards from people who’ve been cited for traffic violations. It’s unnecessarily punitive and far more of a punishment than a misdemeanor should warrant.
The outrage won’t budge the needle at the University of California Police Department. Everything done here likely has a corresponding policy allowing it. Calling it “evidence” rather than a forfeiture may make it feel a bit more legit, but it’s still just policy-enabled theft that allows the government to stack punishment on top of punishment and possibly enrich itself in the process.