Last week Attorney General Eric Holder announced that, with some exceptions, federal law enforcement will no longer adopt seizures made by local, county and state law enforcement.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe in policing for profit. I don’t believe police officers should write traffic tickets for the purpose of generating revenue. I don’t like ticket producing red-light camera systems because I believe, like a lot of the public, that the primary goal of such systems isn’t traffic safety—its revenue generation. I believe street cops should write tickets for significant violations, traffic safety and crash reduction, and spend most of their time looking for and catching crooks. Just one chief’s opinion …
On the other hand, I have no problem with charging criminals a fee for the assets they tie up while we are dealing with their knucklehead selves.
I also support asset forfeiture—seizing the ill-gotten assets of crooks involved in significant criminal activity—even though my current agency barely gets any such assets.
The Trend is Clear
Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like our Attorney General is determined to do as much damage to local law enforcement as possible in his last days in office. Spoiler alert—it’s not just me. One of my good friends wrote this message to me after he heard the news, “Cartel bosses are toasting our AG right now!”
I’m sure they are, Lieutenant. I’m sure they are.
Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I come from a criminal interdiction background. Among the best years of my career were those I spent attempting to locate, arrest, and prosecute drug traffickers. Some have said I was pretty good at it. I worked around some officers—real 5%ers— that were much better at it than I was. And, yes, although I preferred to work the “dope lanes” as opposed to the “money lanes,” when appropriate, I seized the traffickers’ assets, which were later forfeited as a result of the Equitable Sharing Program. I offer no apology for that.
My agency didn’t abuse our ability to seize assets. Unless we could show a clear nexus between the property we were seizing (usually large amounts of U.S. currency) and illegal activity, we didn’t seize it.
We also didn’t use the forfeited funds inappropriately. We used it to pay officers to work additional criminal interdiction details, buy body armor, and get training for the entire agency. We used that money to take more bad guys of all types—not just drug violators—off the street. We made our community safer. We also funded the local DARE program.
When we heard about abuses—and there were some—it pissed us off. We heard about one agency in particular that sent command level officers and their spouses on ski trips and other vacations. Ridiculous.
In any crime-fighting program, whether it be NYPD’s highly effective and crime-reducing “Stop and Frisk” or Equitable Sharing, there will be abuses. Those who abuse Stop and Frisk should be fired. Those who abuse asset seizure programs should have their ability to participate revoked.
But why isn’t the Attorney General doing that? Why is he instead throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater?
Because it’s easier.
It’s easier for Holder to paint law enforcement with the same wide brush than it is to deal with those few agencies and individuals that abuse their authority and the equitable sharing program.
I don’t believe this is a stand-alone decision. Instead it’s part of a continuing theme.
It’s easier for Holder to stick with the narrative, through both innuendo and action that all law enforcement is abusive and racist, than it is to deal with those few—very few—whom abuse their authority.
And now we’ve lost a significant crime-fighting tool.
In his book, Stoning the Keepers at the Gate, Lawrence Blum, wrote “… blanket condemnation of the police may well threaten the very liberties that make such condemnation possible. The alienation of police from the public creates a dangerous vacuum in which criminality as well as extremist political, racial, and/or religious fanaticism is more likely to prosper.”
Watch out. The bus is still rolling.