Governments Attempt To Change Forfeiture Tactics 

Governments Attempt To Change Forfeiture Tactics 
Posted by FoM on January 16, 2001 at 18:32:22 PT
By Karen Dillon - The Kansas City Star
Source: Kansas City Star
Just a year ago, federal agencies were helping local police keep millions of dollars in drug money they seized, with few questions asked. Outside of law enforcement circles, few people even knew it was happening. That has changed. Reform efforts became widespread last year, and forfeiture critics promise more this year to fix what they call a corrupting conflict of interest for law enforcement. 
"It has become a hot issue finally," said Brenda Grantland, a California lawyer and president of Forfeiture Endangers American Rights, a nonprofit group seeking to reform laws. "It has taken us many, many years. The momentum has changed, and it's in our favor." For more than a decade, state and local law enforcement agencies have found a way to keep drug money they seize even when state laws prohibit that. It works this way: Police seize drug money, but instead of going through state court, as most of their laws require, they hand it off to a federal agency. The agency keeps part of the money and returns the rest to the police department. The Kansas City Star checked more than two dozen states earlier last year and found that police in every one of them had used the federal government to circumvent their own laws. Some believe the police arrangement with federal agencies gives police a financial incentive to seize drug money, which can lead to abuses such as racial profiling and illegal searches. It also diverts money away from education and other areas for which lawmakers want forfeited drug money. Opposition is bounding from state to state. In two states voters passed ballot initiatives in November prohibiting police from keeping cash and property they seized. An initiative was attempted in a third state but failed. At least two other states attempted and failed to enact reform bills, and both appear ready to try again this year. Lawmakers in other states also are reviewing forfeiture laws. The issue will be addressed in several other arenas this year: A reform bill will be introduced in Congress, which last year passed a watered-down forfeiture bill that failed to address the police handoffs. President-elect George W. Bush plans to appoint a national commission to review the forfeiture issue and several other aspects of the criminal justice system. Some law enforcement agencies already have stopped evading state forfeiture laws. For example, after coming under increasing public criticism, the Kansas City Police Department said it would follow state law. Forfeiture reform is part of a larger movement opposing the war on drugs. Seizures have been a major way for law enforcement agencies to raise the money needed to fight the war. Critics are questioning the billions of dollars being spent on the war and the hundreds of thousands of nonviolent offenders it has sent to prison. The U.S. Supreme Court recently outlawed roadblocks set up to check for drugs, which Grantland described as "forfeiture traps." "For a long, long time people said, `I think the drug war has to be great, because I'm against drugs,' " Grantland said. "Now people are looking at it in a more educated fashion, and they are seeing it is not working, and it is costing a lot of money. It's causing police corruption and taking away everybody's constitutional rights." Many in law enforcement argue, however, that the war on drugs is necessary and that local and state police need the forfeiture funds to carry it on without a taxpayer burden. "If you take the forfeited proceeds, you fund things that would have been paid by tax dollars," said Brad Slater, Weber County sheriff in Utah, where voters passed a reform measure in November. "Secondly, you've taken away the revenue stream for the illegal operations." In the states: Several states expect to see reform efforts in coming months. Lawmakers in Missouri, which has one of the nation's most comprehensive laws, will once again try to fasten the hatch on police unilaterally transferring money to federal agencies. Last year a bill that had passed the state Senate died in the House in the last few minutes of the session. The bill has been re-introduced by Sen. Harry Wiggins, a Kansas City Democrat. Some legislators expect the Wiggins bill to pass early in the session. Other reform bills have been filed as well. Hearings will be held today on Wiggins' bill and a similar bill. In Kansas, where almost no debate has occurred previously, some lawmakers are predicting fireworks in the current session. A bill has been drawn up to tighten accounting by police of forfeiture proceeds. Some lawmakers, however, want to redirect the money to education and to require convincing evidence that a crime occurred before property is forfeited. Current Kansas law allows law enforcement and prosecutors to keep all forfeited money. "Essentially this whole business of them keeping the money is a conflict of interest," said Rep. Ralph Tanner, chairman of the Education Committee. Tanner, a Baldwin City Republican, said he planned to introduce a bill soon but realized it would be a hard fight to reform the law. He said he expected opposition from lawmakers who believed that "druggies are bad" and that anyone suspected of using drugs should have their property confiscated. "You have law enforcement who will say we already have a pretty good law," Tanner said. Tanner's bill has attracted interest from Sen. John Vratil, a Johnson County Republican and the newly appointed chairman of the Judiciary Committee. "I think it is a current issue and deserves attention," said Vratil, who is considering public hearings. In New Mexico, a drug policy committee appointed by Gov. Gary Johnson also has recommended forfeiture reforms. Johnson has told legislators he wants a bill filed this session. In California, Sen. John Vasconcellos is "giving very, very serious consideration" to reintroducing a forfeiture reform bill, said spokesman Rand Martin. The bill passed the Legislature last year but was vetoed by Gov. Gray Davis. "The senator is not one who is willing to give up after one veto," Martin said. Some law enforcement agencies are beginning to fight back to keep drug money they seize. In Oregon and Utah, lawmakers are feeling the angst of law enforcement agencies almost two months after voters overwhelmingly passed forfeiture reform initiatives. Among other provisions, the initiatives prohibit police from unilaterally transferring money to the federal government. In Utah, police are heavily lobbying lawmakers to try to get the measure repealed or softened, arguing that voters did not understand the implications. "I would disagree that the voters have spoken," Slater, the sheriff, said. Law enforcement's reaction against the initiatives has been intense in Oregon, where a task force is meeting to write legal guidelines to put the initiative into effect. In addition, the Lincoln County Interagency Narcotics Team has filed a lawsuit asking that the initiative, a constitutional amendment, be declared unconstitutional. Forfeiture "is an important tool for law enforcement," said Rod Bovett, assistant Lincoln County counsel. The initiative also has several unintended consequences, such as cutting police money for DUI investigations, he said. The U.S. Department of Justice also is studying the initiative to determine how it can continue the forfeiture arrangement federal agencies have with state and local police. Leslie Westphal, assistant U.S. attorney in Portland, Ore., says she expects the number of forfeitures her office handles for state and local law enforcement to increase because the state measure generally requires a conviction and federal law does not. Several involved in drafting legal guidelines expect a fight. Many Oregon law enforcement task forces depend solely on forfeited funds for their operating budgets, Rep. Floyd Prozanski said. For example, a task force in Lane County had to raise about $500,000 a year in forfeited funds to fight drug crimes. "It was not our intent to do away with forfeiture as a tool to deal with criminal wrongdoing," Prozanski said. "But at the same time it was our perspective that programs should not be funded based on the amount that is being forfeited." The group that organized the initiatives plans to lobby in Utah and Oregon to preserve the measures, said Bill Zimmerman, executive director of the Campaign for New Drug Policies. The group also will study whether to put similar initiatives on the ballots of other states in 2002, Zimmerman said. Many say the only way to stop police from evading state law is for Congress to shut down the financial incentive from the federal side. A bill that U.S. Rep. Karen McCarthy, a Missouri Democrat, plans to introduce would require money the Justice Department returns to a state to be spent according to that state's laws. The bill will be difficult to pass. The House last year attempted to pass such a reform, but it never got off the floor. It never got out of draft form in the Senate. McCarthy has the backing of Rep. Henry Hyde, said Phil Scaglia, one of her spokesmen. Hyde, an Illinois Republican, pushed last year's reform bill and is considered an authority on forfeitures. His office did not return phone calls in recent weeks. In the next few months Bush is expected to appoint a national commission to examine law enforcement concerns, including the forfeiture controversy, police brutality and the high number of first-time offenders imprisoned for using drugs, a spokesman said. The commission is being compared to one that President Lyndon Johnson appointed in 1966 and that resulted in sweeping changes in law enforcement. It was the last time a president convened such a group. Complete Title: Governments Attempt To Change Forfeiture Tactics of Police DepartmentsTo reach Karen Dillon, call (816) 234-4430 or send e-mail to: kdillon Source: Kansas City Star (MO)Author: Karen Dillon - The Kansas City StarPublished: January 15, 2001Copyright: 2001 The Kansas City StarAddress: 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108Contact: letters kcstar.comWebsite: Articles & Web Site:F.E.A.R. Proposes Change to Kansas Forfeiture Law Kansas City Star's "Protect and Collect" Series:Police, Federal Agencies Resist Change 
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Comment #4 posted by Ethan Russo, MD on January 17, 2001 at 07:47:42 PT:
Time to Get Published, Kap
Kap, your analysis is so caustic, I am burning here in Montana! Of course, you absolutely right to be outraged. I think you should publish this material in or other venue. Perhaps they will allow your literary nom de plume. I am serious. Think about it for the greater good.
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Comment #3 posted by kaptinemo on January 17, 2001 at 07:30:45 PT:
The main danger, again.
"Asset seizures play an important role in the operation of [multijurisdictional drug] task forces. One 'big bust' can provide a task force with the resources to become financially independent. Once financially independent, a task force can choose to operate without Federal or state assistance. - Report commissioned by the Department of Justice, Oct., 1993(1) "Many in law enforcement argue, however, that the war on drugs is necessary and that local and state police need the forfeiture funds to carry it on without a taxpayer burden.""If you take the forfeited proceeds, you fund things that would have been paid by tax dollars," said Brad Slater, Weber County sheriff in Utah, where voters passed a reform measure in November. Okay, time to take out my scalpel and apply some judicious surgery to this lump of scheisse.First off:To prevent abuse of power, keep your local LEOs on a short leash. How? Simple: budgetary restraints. The 'burden' of keeping your LEOs in check this way has proven to be a very effective policy in insuring that the majority of your civil liberties go unsavaged. But when the Feds sidle in and whisper the word 'forfeiture' in their ears, the local LEOs start dancing to the Federal tune, rather than the local one. Like a hound that no longer follows your commands but that of the neighbor that has been slipping it dog biscuits under the fence, they no longer pay attention to you but have switched their loyalties to the Feds. In effect, in everything but name, they become the very thing that is expressly forbidden in the Constitution: a Federal police force. Which is, itself, symptomatic of something much worse. Centralization of power is never a good idea, especially when that power has become both unresponsive and downright dismissive of the very people it is supposed to serve. The Federal attempts to disenfranchise the voters of California and Arizona immediately after the successful passage of Prop215 and 200 respectively, are ample proof of just how contemptuous that power has become. And that contempt has become infectious:"In Utah, police are heavily lobbying lawmakers to try to get the measure repealed or softened, arguing that voters did not understand the implications." "I would disagree that the voters have spoken," Slater, the sheriff, said." (In other words, if McCaffrey can stand on national TV and in effect say that the Califonia voters were hoodwinked and were therefore stupid, then the local LEOs should be able to get away with it, too, right?) Even worse, McCaffrey had invited his cat's-paw 'concerned citizens groups' to attend a Federally sponsored, Federally funded conference, held on Federal property, by a Federal 'civil servant' with the express purpose of subborning the sovereign franchise of the voters of California and Arizona. This is a direct violation of the HATCH ACT. (Interesting, isn't it, that the promulgator of this post-Watergate legislation designed to prevent Nixonian abuses of the civil service for political gain has spoken nary a peep about this gross violation of civil service rules?)"Secondly, you've taken away the revenue stream for the illegal operations."Let's see: Trillions of dollars are made every year in illicit drug sales. And these goobers think that they can put anything in the way of a real dambrake on it? Last year alone, a major drug-and-money seizure was performed on the West Coast, trumpetted (of course) as the biggest one ever. 2 Billion dollars in material. The LEOs were wriggling like their nark dog puppies, they were so pleased with themselves.The next week the price of heroin and cocaine had been shown to have *dropped*, and the quality was as high as ever. People who have money enough for harebrained schemes such as building a dope-ferrying submarine in the Andes mountains, hundreds of miles from the coastline and thousands of feet above mean sea level don't have cash-flow problems. Evidently, economics is not a subject the narks are conversant with.But they intimately understand the concept of 'extortion'; they've been practicing it for far too long. Time to put a muzzle on Porkie's snout.
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Comment #2 posted by Dave in Florida on January 17, 2001 at 05:13:50 PT
The gravey train is over
>Many in law enforcement argue, however, that the war on drugs is necessary and that local and state police need the forfeiture funds to carry it on without a taxpayer burden. yes, it is neccasary for them to keep their gravy train jobs. Of course these commandos are not going to give up thier bonus money..willingly.They will fight tooth and nail to keep it. What did LEO's do before we had Forfieture. I think they dealed with a budget just like the rest of us..They know when the vast budget goes away they will not have the time to waste on pot smokers and have to deal with real criminals, like robbers and rapist
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Comment #1 posted by freedom fighter on January 17, 2001 at 00:04:00 PT
"White Lie"
"Governments Attempt To Change Forfeiture Tactics" "Governments To Change Forfeiture Tactics"Long time ago, my basketball coach said, "You do not try, You just do it!" Too bad my coach did not work for Nike company.:)Reason why we, the governments, are "attempting", "trying"?"In Oregon and Utah, lawmakers are feeling the angst of law enforcement agencies almost two months after voters overwhelmingly passed forfeiture reform initiatives."They sure sound like drug addicts squealing when their hands got caught in a cookie jar filled with gold and silver.Heck, someone gotta set up a 12 step program so they can help them selves with this money addiction problem. Is there any such a program for it? I sure hope so!
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