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Questions about civil asset forfeiture

By Scott Tibbs, February 13, 2015

Thou shalt not steal. -- Exodus 20:15

Civil asset forfeiture has been a big issue the last couple weeks nationally, so it stands to reason (especially in an election year) that voters deserve to be informed about what is being done locally regarding this practice. With that backdrop, I sent the following list of questions to several government officials in Bloomington city government

  • Does the Bloomington Police Department seize money and property in the course of criminal investigations, specifically illegal drug investigations?
  • What restrictions are in place on these seizures, if any?
  • Are there civil asset forfeitures done by the BPD in cooperation with the federal government?
  • What additional protections are in place, locally, to safeguard civil liberties of people not convicted of a crime?
  • How much money and/or property is confiscated on an annual basis, if any?
  • Are detailed records maintained of money and/or property seized by the BPD, if any?

As has been documented by Radley Balko and the staff of Reason.com, there have been a number of cases where people have lost huge amounts of money and/or property due to "civil asset forfeiture" laws. Many of these people have not even been charged with a crime, much less actually convicted of one. Civil asset forfeiture has, to a large extent, become nothing more than a racket that law enforcement uses to fund itself. The motive is greed, not protecting the innocent or punishing the guilty.

The theory behind asset forfeiture was reasonable - that since profit is the motive for organized crime, the government can take that profit away to diminish the incentive to commit those crimes. The problem is that civil asset forfeiture has expanded far beyond the drug kingpins it was originally supposed to harm and has become a cash cow for law enforcement specifically and government generally. It is "legalized" theft.

So how much of this happens locally? I do not know. That is why I am asking these questions.