Minnesota Cops Are Dismantling Criminal Organizations At Less Than $1,000 A Pop

from the oh-wait-i-guess-that-isn't-doing-jackshit-to-the-crime-rate dept

Law enforcement officials love to defend asset forfeiture. While sidestepping the fact that it almost always directly enriches the agency doing the forfeiting, these officials love to claim it's an invaluable tool that helps cops dismantle dangerous criminal organizations.

This is why they fight reporting requirements. No one knows you're just making poor people poorer unless you're required to report all of your forfeitures. Up in Minnesota -- like far too many other places around the country -- law enforcement officers roll Sheriff of Nottingham style. Unfortunately, there's no Robin Hood lurking in the forests patrolled by opportunistic officers.

Here's state auditor Julie Blaha offering her opinion about forfeitures in Minnesota after digging into the data the agencies provided:

“The data shows that when it comes to the impact of forfeitures, the big story is in the small numbers,” Blaha said in a statement. “Those kinds of amounts have a small impact on government systems, but they have a big impact at the individual level.”

[...]

“If you are managing a public safety budget, small forfeitures are a minor and unpredictable part of your revenue stream,” Blaha continued. “But if you are a low income person experiencing a forfeiture, those amounts can have a big effect on your life. Having a few hundred dollars seized can mean the difference between making rent or homelessness. Losing that old car can lead to missing work and losing your job.”

The program punishes the poor. Very few law enforcement agencies which rely on forfeiture for their discretionary funds want to tangle with an actually organized criminal organization. Those guys can afford lawyers. Most citizens can't. That's why most seizures are so small they're not worth fighting in court. At the end of the jurisprudence day, citizens may win back their cash or cars, but they'll lose the war, having paid more in court and legal fees than what their property is worth.

Everything adds up to real money if you have enough of it. Here's the ugly truth, straight from the auditor's report [PDF].

523 (12 percent) forfeitures were less than $100.
1,414 (32 percent) forfeitures ranged from $100 to $499.
858 (20 percent) forfeitures ranged from $500 to $999.
1,252 (29 percent) forfeitures ranged from $1,000 to $4,999.
304 (7 percent) forfeitures were equal to or greater than $5,000
.

Only seven percent targeted amounts that might actually do damage to criminal organizations. 64% of forfeitures targeted less than $1,000.

Here's the list of crimes associated with these seizures, which shows officers are willing to take easy wins and easy cash, rather than actually tangle with criminal enterprises far more harmful and dangerous.

In 2019, DUI-related and controlled substance accounted for 94 percent of the forfeitures. DUI-related forfeitures accounted for 3,654, or 47 percent, of reported forfeitures, while forfeitures involving a controlled substance accounted for 3,611, or 47 percent, of reported forfeitures. The remaining forfeitures involved fleeing (251), prostitution (69), “other” crimes (36), weapons (31), robbery/theft (23), assault (20), and burglary (13). Figure 5 on the following page shows completed forfeitures by type of crime.

Oh thank god. They're dismantling Big Drunk. We won't have to fear the scourge of alcohol/drug consumers for much longer. #Heroes. And if that wasn't enough, the dangerous Sinola Fleeing Cartel is being destroyed bit-by-bit. Abandoned property is so much easier to seize and forfeit than stuff people are still standing next to and stating their claim for.

This is how asset forfeiture works: easy wins predicated on criminal activity that rarely affects anyone besides the person stopped and their property. It all adds up though. For the state of Minnesota, the total was $7.5 million. And what did it accomplish? Did it cripple the non-organized crime of driving under the influence? Did it make it less likely for people to carry their personal stashes of illicit substances? No one dismantled a drug cartel. No one ensured Minnesotans would be subjected to fewer violent crimes. All that happened was cops took stuff that was easy to take and spent the money once it rolled in.

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Filed Under: asset forfeiture, julie blaha, legalized theft, minnsesota


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Sep 2020 @ 3:56pm

    Blue cities... smh.

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

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 14 Sep 2020 @ 4:30pm

      Yeah, it sucks when cops can basically run an entire town by making people afraid of having their money taken, their property seized, and their lives ruined because of greed.

      …oh wait you meant—

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

    • identicon
      Michael, 14 Sep 2020 @ 4:30pm

      Re:

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

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 14 Sep 2020 @ 11:35pm

        Re: Re:

        Even if it wasn't - blue cities are where the most people live:

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_mayors_of_the_50_largest_cities_in_the_United_States

        So, another right-winger unable to understand things like proportionality, and the fact that gerrymandering means that their "team" is over-represented, not a majority.

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

        • icon
          Stephen T. Stone (profile), 15 Sep 2020 @ 8:01am

          another right-winger unable to understand things like proportionality

          See also: the disproportionate treatment of Black people in the criminal justice system as compared to the treatment of White people

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

        • icon
          Another Kevin (profile), 15 Sep 2020 @ 11:06am

          over-represented, and not a majority

          Shortly before the advent of the Great Plague, I was in a doctor's waiting room, and two angry mountain men were conversing loudly a little bit away from me. One was complaining how unfair it was that the city people got all the best from government, because they always outvoted the country folk. All their taxes went 'downtown' with nothing to show for it. What's worse, the power company was building a wind farm in their town, and had convinced a couple of farmers to sell their land!

          Apparently, "majority rule" was manifestly unfair in their eyes, and the sale by a willing seller to a willing buyer was exploitative. Also, the net flow of tax money runs in the opposite direction, but let's not confuse the issue with more facts.

          I get the impression that to a great many people, something is "fair" only if they get their way in every particular, and who cares whether anyone else might find it fair?

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 14 Sep 2020 @ 5:21pm

    When the only difference between the mob and a cop is the badge

    No one ensured Minnesotans would be subjected to fewer violent crimes. All that happened was cops took stuff that was easy to take and spent the money once it rolled in.

    Yes, I'm sure the public is ever so grateful that the police are spending so much time and effort making sure that thousands of people are dealing with very real, very noticeable legalized crime in the form of being robbed by the goons in blue.

    Actions like this just add more evidence to the argument to defund the police and kick their corrupt asses out, because when the police are regularly the source of crime giving them the boot is being 'tough on crime'.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Sep 2020 @ 7:05am

      Re: When the only difference between the mob and a cop is the ba

      I agree that corruption is a big part of the problem, but it goes higher than the police force. They can't just decide on their own to implement seizure activities, it is typically put into law. The corruption goes so much higher than just the cops.

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

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 15 Sep 2020 @ 7:28am

        Can doesn't mean must

        The laws related to robbery-at-badgepoint and those that support them certainly deserve plenty of attention and contempt themselves, but the fact that they can rob people blind does not mean that they are required to, so police still shoulder the majority of the blame.

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

  • icon
    Anton Sherwood (profile), 14 Sep 2020 @ 7:30pm

    stochastic taxation

    I think forfeiture has a lot of potential that isn't being seriously considered. We could do away with so much paperwork if, instead of calculating what each person ought to pay in taxes, government agents simply go out and take as much as is needed from whoever happens to cross their path.

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

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 15 Sep 2020 @ 2:13am

      Re: stochastic taxation

      "...if, instead of calculating what each person ought to pay in taxes, government agents simply go out and take as much as is needed from whoever happens to cross their path."

      Ah, eminent domain. That used to be the standard of government funding a few millennia ago. It was abandoned primarily because eventually governments learned that it was the primary active ingredient in revolutions.

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

      • icon
        Uriel-238 (profile), 15 Sep 2020 @ 1:59pm

        the primary active ingredient in revolutions.

        Eventually governments learned that [eminent domain] was the primary active ingredient in revolutions.

        And it will be again!

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

  • icon
    PaulT (profile), 14 Sep 2020 @ 11:37pm

    "523 (12 percent) forfeitures were less than $100"

    I'd love to hear the justifications for those seizures. The stretching to get from "we need to seize funds to prevent major criminal activity" to "suspect had some pocket change for us to take" must be epic.

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

  • identicon
    Dave, 14 Sep 2020 @ 11:46pm

    They're just going after the low-hanging fruit.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Sep 2020 @ 2:56am

    you think this is bad... some of them have card readers and will strip anything on a bank card (prepaid, credit, bank account)! it doesn't matter, you look guilty of___!

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

  • identicon
    Anonomous coward, 15 Sep 2020 @ 9:04am

    Not ALL police are bad

    It is obvious that asset forfeiture is something that can be abused by law enforcement. There are many articles on Techdirt that cover the many times this has been abused. This does not mean that ALL police are bad and this does not meant that police need to be DEFUNDED.

    Police uphold the law as it is written and can only uphold the law where and when it can do so. Without police there cannot be accountability for criminal conduct, especially from corrupt politicians. Politicians who slant how laws to be a help to society(sucha as asset forfeiture), when it is not give the power to police.

    Granted, asset forfeiture could be helpful when actually applied to real criminals and thier gangs. But we don't read about the impacts of how it helped law enforcement here on techdirt or in most news artciles.

    Law enforcement should have judicial review of all of their arrests and acts of seizure before declaring it property. And I think the assets siezed should be donated or sold to help their cities with perhaps a 1% stake that goes to the police department. I do not think that police should be allowed to keep property such as cars or homes, etc. I think if that if there has been judicial review of the assets siezed and not returned after several interviews of the owner(s). I think this should be still allowed as a police practice, just not as it is practices as of now due to the obvious abuses in the past and present highlighted in techdirt.

    We need law enforcement in our communities but we need good politicians and law makers that aren't corrupt creating unncecessary trouble for the public, such as asset forfeitures (as it is used and abused in law enforcement today) and criminalization of marijuana etc.

    Not all cops are bad, but we do know that police that make bad decisions and do bad things give police as a whole a bad reputation.

    Police departments already know there are problems and many already review their practices and procedures used and have a merit system within their departments personel.

    The less police we have the more crime happens and we need the security to call 911 and get help from intruders, gangs, domestic related issues etc. So even though there are abuses that happen, it's not like someone in law enforcement does not try to figure out how to minimize it from happening. Law enforcmeent do read and they do happen to read techdirt from time to time. This does not mean they are bad for reading and understanding problems and working on fixing them, all the while being labeled a pig because they are a cop.

    Again, law enforcement do not make the laws they are to enforce them. Also, keep in mind that law enforcment will use every extent of the law they can, for good and for bad. This is why it is good for police to have body cameras and civilans have the right to complaints on officers conduct etc.

    You cannot control what people do when they have already done something bad. You can only try to prevent it. Judicial review on asset forfeitures makes sense to me. But it may not be the solution, but the law should have the ability to size assets of real criminals and yes I understand that it is a law abused on ordinary Americans. Nothing is perfect, but we cannot have a community of gangs that grow stronger than the police because they have the resources police take away.

    All i'm saying is Techdirt is right about how much of a problem assset forfeiture is. For the most part, it is more of a problem than the good it is supposed to serve. But I do not believe it is an action that should be unable to be taken without a warrant by judicial review before and after the fact. Ownership of wrong doing needs to be accounted for and property returned if wronfully taken.

    Warrants are a good way to have that extra level of accountability but it is obvious this law allows that to be skirted. It's sort of a tool that can be useful but needs to be refined to where the property is charged with a crime instead of the individual.

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

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 15 Sep 2020 @ 11:23pm

      Re: Not ALL police are bad

      "Granted, asset forfeiture could be helpful when actually applied to real criminals and thier gangs. But we don't read about the impacts of how it helped law enforcement here on techdirt or in most news artciles"

      Maybe because those impacts don't exist in the numbers needed to support this kind of outright theft?

      "Again, law enforcement do not make the laws they are to enforce them."

      Which law says they have to empty the pockets of drunk drivers caught with less than $100 in their pockets with no indication that any of the activities that asset forfeiture are intended to prevent are present?

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

  • identicon
    Ah Thathurts, 15 Sep 2020 @ 5:44pm

    Nuff said.

    Power comes from the barrel... literally. Nifty said.

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


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