Civil forfeiture is the government practice of taking property from citizens without due process, but while pretending that it’s all above-board. When police say they suspect a crime, they can impound property associated with that crime. “Civil forfeiture” is the legal legerdemain: instead of suing the owner, the government sues (get this) the property itself.
And, because of this trickery, burden of proof is inverted: victims must prove their innocence and their right to the impounded property.
Generally, governments keep it. Some police departments are “rolling in the dough” they get from impounding property.
This has been known for some time; I’ve written about it before. But now the Washington Post has finally taken notice … and unearthed a new element to the story.
“Behind the rise in seizures is a little-known cottage industry of private police-training firms that teach the techniques of ‘highway interdiction’ to departments across the country,” the Post’s report relates. There’s even a private intelligence network, the Black Asphalt Electronic Networking & Notification System, through which police “share detailed reports about American motorists — criminals and the innocent alike — including their Social Security numbers, addresses and identifying tattoos, as well as hunches about which drivers to stop.”
Participating police officers compete to steal more and more booty from drivers and their passengers.
Yes, it is stealing. It is only nominally “legal.”
Unfortunately, it is only one practice among many that have turned local police departments into the moral equivalent of gangland robbers.
If you say you want limited government, this is an issue ripe for protest. And lobbying for reform. And citizen initiatives.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.