Pubdate: Wed, 29 Apr 2015
Source: Orange County Register, The (CA)
Copyright: 2015 The Orange County Register


Law enforcement agencies have become increasingly reliant on the 
seizure of assets and property to finance their operations, 
regardless of the justification.

The Drug Policy Alliance released a report last week on asset 
forfeiture abuse in California. The report highlighted a handful of 
cities in Los Angeles County that lead the state in asset seizures 
per capita: Vernon, Irwindale, Beverly Hills, La Verne, South Gate, 
Pomona, Baldwin Park, Gardena and West Covina. Combined, the nine 
police departments made $43 million from asset forfeitures during 
fiscal years 2006-13.

According to the report, it isn't clear how many seizures were 
associated with a criminal conviction, though it is known that up to 
80 percent of owners who lose property aren't even charged. Further, 
the report notes that "between 2005 and 2013, California law 
enforcement agencies' revenue from state forfeitures remained flat 
while their revenue from federal forfeitures more than tripled."

That's because state law allows local police to keep only 65 percent 
of the revenue they seize and requires a conviction for seizures 
worth less than $25,000. Federal law, in contrast, does not require a 
conviction for assets to be seized, and, until this year, agencies 
were able to keep up to 80 percent of what they grabbed so long as 
they partnered with the federal government.

In a teleconference accompanying the report, retired Redondo Beach 
police Lt. Diane Goldstein described how a food truck owner had 
$10,000 in cash seized by police on the grounds that a drug dog 
detected narcotics on the money.

While charges were never filed, and a judge ordered the money 
returned, the money had already been divvied up with the federal 
government, and the man didn't have the financial resources to pursue 
the issue further.

State Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, has authored Senate Bill 
443, which would require, among other things, a criminal conviction 
before any assets are seized, require local agencies to abide by 
state standards before splitting money with the feds and improved due 
process for people caught up in forfeiture proceedings.

Such a reform would significantly enhance civil liberties in 
California and curb unjustified asset forfeiture.
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