Cops In Texas Seize Millions By ‘Policing for Profit’

by Nick Sibilla | Forbes

Texas law enforcement are continuing to enrich themselves using a little-known legal doctrine known as civil forfeiture, according to a new series of investigative reports.

Under civil forfeiture, property can be forfeited even if its owner has never been charged with a crime.

In these proceedings, accused criminals have more rights than innocent owners and the government sues the property, not its owner.




These cases can be so baffling, one Texas Supreme Court Justice recently compared civil forfeiture to Alice in Wonderlandand the works of Franz Kafka.

But civil forfeiture isn’t just a quirky curiosity—it’s a powerful incentive for law enforcement to take millions.

Last month, the Fort Worth Star-Texas reported that the District Attorney’s Office in Tarrant County, Texas seized $3.5 million, plus almost 250 cars and 440 computers in fiscal year 2013, roughly equal to about 10 percent of its budget.

Of the property seized, almost $845,000 was spent on salaries for 16 employees at the office.

By comparison, only $53,000 went to “six nonprofits that benefit victims or prosecution efforts.”

The county’s narcotics unit spent an even greater proportion of forfeiture funds on salaries.

Last year, the unit seized $666,427 in cash and used $426,058 to pay salaries.

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Even more property was forfeited by participating in a federal program known as “equitable sharing.”

By partnering with a federal agency, local and state law enforcement can keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds from a forfeited property.

Incredibly, police can collaborate even if doing so would circumvent their own states’ protections for property owners.

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Equitable sharing doled out almost $60,000 to the Arlington Police Department and nearly $400,000 to the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport Department of Public Safety in 2013.

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A joint task force composed of the Tarrant County DA’s Office and the DEA received almost $2.9 million, one of the highest bounties in the state.

In Texas, law enforcement can keep up to 90 percent of the proceeds from forfeited property. That clearly affects police priorities and provides an incentive to pursue cases rich in assets.

In another article, the Star-Telegramdelved into the forfeiture battle that ensued after law enforcement busted a low-level drug ring at Texas Christian University (TCU).

Police arrested twenty-three people for selling marijuana, pills and other controlled substances.

Most of those arrested were TCU students, including four members of the football team.

No one went to prison; they got probation, deferred adjudication or the charges were dismissed.

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Others received punishments as low as $300 in court costs.

Yet by using civil forfeiture, police seized over $300,000 worth of propertyfrom the students, including 15 cars, trucks and SUVs valued at more than $250,000; over $46,000 in cash; and over $17,000 from laptops, iPads, iPhones and the like.

As the paper noted, “The items were seized before formal charges were filed and months before any convictions.”

But according to an after-action report issued by the Fort Worth Police Department, the drugs seized in the investigation only had an estimated street value of $29,000.

So the property seized was worth far more than the drugs that were actually taken off the streets.

Civil forfeiture creates a “perverse incentive” and “skews law enforcement priorities,” noted Allen St. Pierre, the executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

“It’s one of the worst stepchildren of the war on some drugs.”

Among the TCU cases, cash and electronic devices were typically forfeited to the state.Untitled-1

As for the cars, some students were able to retrieve them, but only after months of waiting and negotiations.

One student paid $7,500 in an “economic agreement” with Tarrant County to retrieve his Cadillac Escalade. Another person sent $17,500 to the county’s narcotics unit to get back his Ford F-150.

Across the state, pursuing forfeiture cases related to cannabis has generated millions for Texas police.

Between 2002 and 2012, the federal government processed $64.3 million in cash and other valuables in civil and criminal marijuana forfeitures in Texas.

According to the Wall Street Journal, that amount is the fourth highest in the nation.

“Police power cannot go unpoliced”

Texas law enforcement has a long history of policing for profit.

The Institute for Justice found that the average law enforcement agency in Texas took in forfeiture proceeds equal to about 14 percent of its budget in 2007.

Among the 10 agencies that obtained the most forfeiture proceeds, that figure soared to one-third.

Between 2001 and 2007, law enforcement agencies seized and kept over 35,000 cars, homes and electronics, forfeiting more than $280 million.

District attorneys have used these forfeiture funds on ridiculous purchases, including visiting casinos, a vacation to Hawaii and a margarita machine, as seen in the video below.

 

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Filming Cops
Filming Cops 5648 posts

Filming Cops was started in 2010 as a conglomerative blogging service documenting police abuse. The aim isn’t to demonize the natural concept of security provision as such, but to highlight specific cases of State-monopolized police brutality that are otherwise ignored by traditional media outlets.

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