Share/E-mail This Story

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.



Tennessee Legislators Can't Stand Up To Cops; Keep Federal Loophole Open For Nashville Law Enforcement

from the asset-forfeiture-gone-mad dept

Earlier this year, the Tennessee legislature passed some very minimal asset forfeiture reforms. The bill, signed into law in May, does nothing more than require periodic reporting on use of forfeiture funds and the occasional audit.

What it doesn't do is require convictions. It also doesn't close the federal loophole, which allows Tennessee law enforcement to bypass state laws if they feel they're too restrictive. Given that state law doesn't really do anything to curb forfeiture abuse, the federal adoption lifeline isn't used quite as often in Tennessee as it is by law enforcement agencies in others states with laws that are actually worth a damn.

But local cops really really really want the federal loophole open. They've been applying pressure to Nashville legislators and it has had the expected effect. (h/t Daniel Horwitz)

Nashville on Tuesday renewed its participation in a controversial 1980s-era federal program that's allowed the police department to keep proceeds from seized assets taken from people suspected of crimes involving drugs.

After spirited debate, the Metro Council voted 25-5 with two abstentions to renew Metro's participation in the "equitable sharing program" with the U.S. Department of Justice and federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

The loophole Nashville law enforcement barely needs will remain open. And it will remain open because… well, budgets are tight and we can't keep asking state taxpayers to make up the difference.

Councilwoman Jacobia Dowell, who also voted for renewing the agreement, said not renewing the program would leave a hole in the city's budget.

"I have zero confidence in this council body to find $150,000," Dowell said, noting the city's budget struggles this past year.

So, instead of all taxpayers, Councilwoman Dowell wants to have just a few taxpayers pitch in to help cops -- taxpayers who happen to have property law enforcement thinks they didn't acquire legally.

Or not even taxpayers! Why even trouble those who reside in the state to give law enforcement some extra cash. Why not just take money from people leaving the state? That's the way Tennessee's "drug interdiction" teams work. According to law enforcement, they want to stop the flow of drugs into the state. That doesn't really explain their actions:

While drugs generally come from Mexico on the eastbound side of Interstate 40 and the drug money goes back on the westbound side, the investigation discovered police making 10 times as many stops on the so-called "money side."

Law enforcement doesn't seem to mind the drugs coming in, but it's certainly not going to let the cash head back out. Councilwoman Dowell thinks if cops can't lift money from drug dealers, they won't be able to buy the stuff they need to continue to allow drugs to flow into the state.

What Dowell absolutely doesn't want to see is her poorest constituents asked to dig even deeper to keep the drug interdiction units in business.

She said [the budget shortfall] would end up coming from Nashville's "most distressed and the impoverished communities."

Bless her heart. Oh wait.

Although civil asset forfeiture affects people of every economic status and race, a growing array of studies indicates that low-income individuals and communities of color are hit hardest. The seizing of cash, vehicles, and homes from low-income individuals and people of color not only calls law enforcement practices into question, but also exacerbates the economic struggles that already plague those communities.

None of the rationale makes sense. The drug teams that don't actually catch drugs need money to keep doing the job they're not doing and they need to take it from someone since the state's not going to help them out. The people who are going to help them out are either people leaving the state or low-income residents.

The problem is that when you say someone's going to have to come up with $150,000, someone will have to come up with it. And when that number increases -- and it will -- the shortfall comes directly from residents and other US citizens who have their belongings taken from them without even being accused of a crime.

$150,000 is only the cut from federal sharing. That's Nashville law enforcement's manageable money habit. There's more to it than the federal slush fund. Nashville law enforcement has created a drug enforcement ecosystem that can't be sustained without the seizure of millions of dollars every year. Even prosecutors recognize the problem.

[Nashville County District Attorney Glenn] Funk stated that on his first day as Nashville’s District Attorney, he was told that $1.7 million to $2 million would be needed to be brought in through seizures in order to keep the drug task force in operation. He also expressed concern that individuals were indicted or subject to forfeiture proceedings who would not otherwise have been if civil asset forfeiture were not a “cash cow.” He stated that officers sometimes target people with high-value cars so they can forfeit them and put the cars into service. General Funk provided these as examples of problems that arise “when we don’t have legislative oversight over the funds and assets . . . that are being seized.”

If you want to start fixing forfeiture abuse, start with the federal loophole. Agencies will realize it's not impossible to live without this money. And from there, you can start cutting them off from the main supply by eliminating civil asset forfeiture altogether by adding a conviction requirement. But if you can't even make this small move, you're not serious about fixing the problem. That's Nashville's problem -- one that harms citizens while keeping law enforcement flush with funds they really didn't earn.


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  1. icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 4 Dec 2018 @ 3:09pm

    Potential Federal Relief on the horizon...maybe

    There might be some relief on this whole civil asset forfieture thing coming from the Supreme Court based upon excessive fines. Too bad they aren't looking at the whole forfieture without a conviction part of the issue.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 4 Dec 2018 @ 4:28pm

    For-profit 'police' work

    Councilwoman Jacobia Dowell, who also voted for renewing the agreement, said not renewing the program would leave a hole in the city's budget.

    "I have zero confidence in this council body to find $150,000," Dowell said, noting the city's budget struggles this past year.

    Well if they need money that badly I'd suggest starting with her pay, along with anyone else who voted in favor of robbery-at-badgepoint, since it's clear they've got no interest in actually representing their constituents, and as such it's a waste of funds to continue to pay them for a job they've no interest in doing.

    While drugs generally come from Mexico on the eastbound side of Interstate 40 and the drug money goes back on the westbound side, the investigation discovered police making 10 times as many stops on the so-called "money side."

    And this nicely highlights what their actual goals are with the program, exposing their lies for what they are. For however much they might claim to be concerned about drugs entering the state, they are vastly more concerned about preventing money leaving it.

    [Nashville County District Attorney Glenn] Funk stated that on his first day as Nashville’s District Attorney, he was told that $1.7 million to $2 million would be needed to be brought in through seizures in order to keep the drug task force in operation

    Bad enough that robbery-at-badgepoint provides a very real financial incentive to steal anything that isn't nailed down and/or on fire(followed by breaking out the crowbars and fire-extinguishers), but when they factor it into the budget things will inevitably go from bad to really bad, because that takes the incentive they already have to grab anything and ramps it up even further with the knowledge that if they don't steal enough, then the program might end up shutting down or their budget might get cut.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Dec 2018 @ 4:28pm

    Re: Potential Federal Relief on the horizon...maybe

    Depending on their ruling, it could prevent violations like this from happening.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    stderric (profile), 4 Dec 2018 @ 4:41pm

    Stopping drugs on their way into a destination state is just throwing away money. Stop a trafficker? All you get is dope that the state can't re-sell (easily at least) and a vehicle. But if you let the drugs in you get:

    • Cash from the wholesale price of the drugs & a vehicle (from traffickers leaving the state)
    • Cash from retail sales plus vehicles, homes, and random other property from in-state dealers
    • Even more cash, vehicles, homes, etc. from the end customers/users

    Stopping the flow of drugs on their way in would be interfering with a doesn't-get-much-better-than-this business model.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 4 Dec 2018 @ 5:06pm

    Re:

    And no worries about all the things druggies do to get drugs. The lives ruined? The robberies and murders committed?

    The money should be spent on rehab rather than cops. It doesn't work all the time, but it does work.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 4 Dec 2018 @ 5:59pm

    Re: Re:

    Drug rehab, public defender's office, homeless shelters/food kitchens... Hell, I'd rather see the money literally destroyed than see it in the hands of the police, as they should never profit from doing their gorram jobs, especially in a way that the more crime(or accusations of crime, aimed at property and occasionally at people) the better off they are.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Jerryskids, 4 Dec 2018 @ 7:35pm

    Some people say nicotine is the most addictive drug there is, even more addictive than heroin, but we all know that once that sweet Lady Green gets her hooks into you there's no depths of depravity to which you won't sink to keep that money flowing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Glenn, 4 Dec 2018 @ 11:22pm

    It's so funny (not) how these cops nowadays don't even recognize criminal behavior when they see it (when they're the ones doing it).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    Albert Smith (profile), 5 Dec 2018 @ 12:19am

    Hi We are Avg Contact Number!

    I was badly stuck with my AVG antivirus, this blog provided answers to a lot of my questions thanks a lot for posting this here, keep writing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 5 Dec 2018 @ 2:23am

    It would be wrong to throw a baggie of cotton candy into her car & then report her as buying drugs??

    I mean it might be nice for them to be on the receiving end of their policies so they can actually understand the damage they are inflicting on others b/c they refuse to do the hard job of running the state even if it meant raising taxes...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    J, 5 Dec 2018 @ 5:51am

    Sanctioned Theviery

    Well said.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    J, 5 Dec 2018 @ 5:51am

    Sanctioned Theviery

    Well said.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Dec 2018 @ 6:33am

    shit kicker piracy

    This makes a good case for avoiding Tenn. at all costs. They have codified piracy based on a cost/benefit bases as a policy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Dec 2018 @ 6:48am

    Re: shit kicker theft

    This makes a good case for avoiding Tenn. at all costs. They have codified theft based on a cost/benefit bases as a theft.

    FTFY.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Dec 2018 @ 11:09am

    What a surprise. When given legal permission to rob people, that's exactly what they'll do.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: I Invented Email
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.