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June 2008
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We’re going to take your money now. Trust us.

NPR has a good four-part series on Asset Seizures

Justice Department figures show that in the past four years alone, the amount of assets seized by federal law enforcement agencies ÷ the vast majority of it cash ÷ has tripled, from $567 million to $1.6 billion. And that doesn’t include tens of millions more the agencies got from state asset forfeiture programs.

Lots of police departments are making asset forfeiture their big game. They’re actually spending more effort profiling drivers going south than going north, because they’d rather seize money than drugs — the drugs get destroyed, the money they get to keep.

čIf they catch ’em going south with a suitcase full of cash, the police department just paid for its budget for the year.ä — Jack Fishman, attorney

And plenty of cases, they’re just stealing it from innocent people at gunpoint.
There were some telling and bizarre quotes from law enforcement in the series…
Part 1
Investigator Mike Tamez assures us that we have no reason to worry if we just trust them:

“We’re not going to sidestep the law and seize people’s money just for the financial gains of the department,” Tamez says. “It’s not going to happen.”

Apparently law enforcement is immune from the lure of money? Right. Of course, plenty of other stories in the series puts the lie to Tamez’ statement.
Part 2
Captain Ray Escamilla explains one of the tricks in picking the mark.

“You don’t want to take the money from any John Doe,” Escamilla says. “If you can’t prove that it’s been a criminal activity, reasonably suspicious, probable cause, you don’t want to take it, ’cause it’ll look bad in court.”

Yeah, cause you don’t want to look bad in court is the main reason for a cop not to steal from people.
Part 3
Chief Deputy Eddie Ingram:

“If you get money, God bless America,” Ingram says. “It’s a wonderful thing. … But that ain’t what our sole purpose in life is. If all I wanted to do was get money, I know how to get out there and get all the money I want.”

Yep. God bless America — where else can government officials have the power to pull people over without cause, search through their stuff and take what you want? I mean, other countries probably have constitutions and stuff to prevent that kind of wholesome, fun activity.
Part 4 covers some of the questionable spending with proceeds of asset forfeiture, although the mere notion of a government entity controlling the money it seizes is unacceptable because such a system cannot help but spawn corruption.

[Thanks Peter and Scott]

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