The Serve and Protection Racket: Auditing Asset Forfeiture
In most jurisdictions, when police conduct a lawful search of a person or their property, officers can seize any money or other physical property they believe to be involved in criminal activity. Usually this involves drugs or guns, but it can extend to assets such as cars, yachts, and houses.
The burden of proof usually lies on the owner, who must demonstrate that their money or goods are not crime-related in order to avoid forfeiture. If the property is forfeited, its value is split between the law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies involved in the seizure and a general fund for either the state or federal government.
Asset forfeiture is therefore a valuable cash cow for money-hungry law enforcement agencies. Todd Feathers explores the different ways agencies keep track of the fund they seize - and the disturbing amount that gets lost in the red tape.
Earlier this week, Todd Feathers introduced us to Equitable Sharing, and how police work with the DOJ to get around some state’s restrictions on civil forfeiture funds. But what about states where those restrictions aren’t so strict? Houston PD provided a detailed look at police property seizures in Texas, and it isn’t pretty.
Most states have strict laws concerning seized funds – here’s how police and the feds work together to get around them
The Department of Justice makes billions of dollars each year through deals with state and local police forces that can act as loopholes in more stringent state laws governing how much money police get to keep when they take a person’s property without pressing charges.
If the money or property seized by the DEA is particularly valuable, it is recorded in a High Value Seized or Recovered Monies (HVSRM) ledger. Muckrock recently obtained copies of these ledgers for the New York, Los Angeles, New England, Miami, and Houston division offices going back as far as 2011 in some cases.
What started as an attempt to re-create a Pulitzer-winning investigation into racial bias and asset forfeiture became a crash course in just how differently agencies can do the same thing,