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.

Filed Under: asset forfeiture, forfeiture, new york, ny city, nyc, nypd, transparency

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  1. icon
    TechDescartes (profile), 28 Jul 2017 @ 7:09pm

    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..."

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