Just how bad are some police departments when it comes to civil forfeiture, where they seize the assets of people who may or may not be charged with crimes? Bad enough that many of them have "wish lists" and get giddy with excitement at the chance to seize an exotic car.
That's direct from the police and local district attorneys in a series of training seminars exposed by the New York Times recently. The Times' report on videos of civil forfeiture training focuses on videos discovered by the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm and one of the chief critics of the practice.
The law enforcement practice of civil forfeiture — where cops seize cars, houses, computers, cash and other assets of people who may not ever be charged with a crime — has come under immense fire in recent months. But it's a huge moneymaker for departments, with the value of assets seized at $4.3 billion in 2012. The assets are sold at public auction or kept for dubious "law enforcement use."
Once again, the seizures can happen even without a conviction or even a charge in court.
This has led police to get quite excited over the things they can potentially seize, as they brag about in the videos. From the NYT story:
In one seminar, captured on video in September, Harry S. Connelly Jr., the city attorney of Las Cruces, N.M., called them "little goodies." And then Mr. Connelly described how officers in his jurisdiction could not wait to seize one man's "exotic vehicle" outside a local bar.
"A guy drives up in a 2008 Mercedes, brand new," he explained. "Just so beautiful, I mean, the cops were undercover and they were just like 'Ahhhh.' And he gets out and he's just reeking of alcohol. And it's like, 'Oh, my goodness, we can hardly wait.' "
Nice. And here's Sean D. McMurtry, the chief of the forfeiture unit in Mercer County, New Jersey, emphasis mine:
Mr. McMurtry said his handling of a case is sometimes determined by department wish lists. "If you want the car, and you really want to put it in your fleet, let me know — I'll fight for it," Mr. McMurtry said, addressing law enforcement officials on the video. "If you don't let me know that, I'll try and resolve it real quick through a settlement and get cash for the car, get the tow fee paid off, get some money for it."
The story also notes that "between 50 to 80 percent" of cars seized were driven by someone other than the vehicle's owner, meaning a parent or grandparent is out a vehicle because of a crime their child or grandparent committed. Or was just suspected of committing, even if they weren't ever charged with a crime.
Efforts have been underway in some states to reform the practices, but they've been fought tooth-and-nail by prosecutors and law enforcement groups.
And why not? You people have a lot of nice cars out there, and the cops need them!