Via Grits for Breakfast, everybody’s after a piece of that asset forfeiture pie.
Perhaps no issue proves more quietly contentious in the local law enforcement community than how the seized currency – about $14.6 million in 5 1/2 years – is divided among agencies hungry for revenue in a struggling economy.
In the end, only about 6.4 percent – or roughly $935,000 – of those seizures have remained in the area to benefit regional law enforcement agencies and taxpayers, according to hundreds of pages of documents released by the DPS in response to a public information request by the Amarillo Globe-News.
Records indicate DPS officials often choose to bypass Panhandle state courts in exchange for Amarillo’s federal court when the largest amounts of money are at stake. It’s a decision that has left some I-40 district attorneys frustrated and raised concerns the federal court route gives DPS an easier and larger payday at the expense of local counties and taxpayers.
Of course, none of that money should even come close to going to any law enforcement or court agency. It is a perversion of the justice system to have law enforcement policy and enforcement/prosecution decisions potentially influenced by how much money could end up coming to the agency.
If I was President (and no, that’s not likely to happen), this is one reform I think I could take on even without Congress (because of course no Congress is likely to agree with what I would do). Just an Executive Order. You see, currently, the feds offer an 80-20 split (80 going to the state law enforcement agency) when they’re involved in an asset forfeiture case. This provides incentive for agencies to involve the feds, because they get to have more money (often bypassing state law that requires it to be used for other things).
My Executive Order would direct how seized funds in joint federal-local actions would be handled:
- In states where there is a mechanism for seized funds to go to a non-law enforcement purpose (ie, education, etc.), then the state will get the 80% (with funds going directly to the state for that purpose, not to the law enforcement agency).
- In states where there is no qualified mechanism for insuring that seized funds don’t go to law enforcement, then the federal government keeps 100%.
- All federal seized funds go to deficit reduction.
This would encourage states to have a non-law enforcement seizure distribution method in order to get the most money, while eliminating the perverse incentive of law enforcement to make decisions based on the cash they might get.
Of course, there’s more reform in this area needed. At the least, asset forfeiture should require that the property owner be convicted of a crime and that prosecution proves the assets were ill-gotten gains of that crime, but that kind of reform would also require Congressional action.