April 28, 2016 - Christopher Ingraham

April 28, 2016
Christopher Ingraham

In the real-life game of cops and robbers, recently released Federal figures show the cops are winning, but perhaps not always in the way you might think.

To be fair, the FBI Crime Report statistics quoted by the Washington-based think tank, Institute for Justice do show law enforcement beating burglars the old fashioned way.  Revenues from burglary, flat for years, actually started to go down around four years ago, but around the same time, something else happened. The amount of money seized by police under a controversial process called civil forfeiture, often from citizens who were not convicted of, or even charged with a crime passed the money gained from all the burglaries in America. These days, somewhere over five dollars is snatched by police under civil forfeiture for every four dollars taken by burglars.

Again, some of this is a product of good interventions by law enforcement, holding down citizens’ losses from burglary, but the real driver in this statistical switch has been the rapid growth of civil forfeiture seizures of cash and property.

In 2014” alone, our guest today, reporter Christopher Ingraham wrote recently in the Washington Post, “federal authorities seized more than $5 billion in assets.”

But wait, you say, in 2015, didn’t the Obama Administration say it was cutting back on civil forfeitures? Yes, you are correct, after Chris Ingraham’s Washington Post colleague Robert O’Harrow published a searing series of investigative reports on how mostly poor, often minority citizens were stripped of money, cars, even in some cases, their homes through civil forfeiture, Obama’s then Attorney General Eric Holder announced that he was putting sharp restraints of some legal sub-paragraphs that let local cops claim up to 80 percent of  the value of assets seized from people never charged with a crime. But it turned out, there was much less to his announcement than he implied.

Last month, Holder’s successor Loretta Lynch took all the restraints off and revealed that the Justice Dept. never wanted to rein in civil forfeiture, but had been denied funds for the program by Congress and needed a year to replenish the pot so it could start once again shoveling cash to state and local police departments.

In the words of Scott Bullock, president of the Institute for Justice, and a leading forfeiture antagonist, “This really was about funding, not a genuine concern about the abuses rampant in the … system.”

More outright deception from an Administration that had promised at its onset to be the most transparent in American History.

Listeners may be interested in our previous show on civil forfeiture, done just after it looked like the Obama Administration was going to end the program. Our guest, Brad Cates, had been a designer of and advocate for civil forfeiture when he was part of Ed Meese’s Justice Department under President Ronald Reagan. Cates has changed his mind and is among the leading advocates to stop civil forfeiture once and for all. His arguments were important in getting the State Legislature of New Mexico to end most forms of civil forfeiture in the Land of Enchantment.

Reading Room

“The feds have resumed a controversial program that lets cops take stuff and keep it” – The Washington Post

“The booming business of asset forfeiture” – The Washington Post

“How Philadelphia seizes millions in ‘pocket change’ from some of the city’s poorest residents” – The Washington Post

“How the IRS seized a man’s life savings without ever charging him with a crime” – The Washington Post

“More fallout from Eric Holder’s changes to civil asset forfeiture law” – The Washington Post

“Holder limits seized-asset sharing process that splits billions with local, state police” – The Washington Post

“A Supreme Court Decision on Freezing Assets Bolsters the Right to Hire a Lawyer” – The New York Times

“Wanted by U.S.: The Stolen Millions of Despots and Crooked Elites” – The New York Times

“Judge Rules Larry Seabrook, Ex-New York Councilman, Must Forfeit His Pension” – The New York Times

“North Carolina: More Seized Assets to Be Returned” – The New York Times



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