When cops seize property, due process is lacking


Seizing property of suspects who have not been convicted of a crime? That’s criminal in and of itself! 

A sheriff was complaining about a bill to limit the government’s ability to seize and keep the cars, homes and other property of criminal suspects who have not been convicted of a crime.

Critics call it policing for profit, and some police are clearly into it, effectively thwarting efforts to reform the practice. Currently, there are bills in the Washington Legislature to elevate the burden of proof for property seizures – one proposed by a pair of Democratic senators and one by a conservative House Republican.

Also, the Spokane City Council will likely vote soon on a proposal to limit how seizure funds are spent and managed by the police department. The department has had wide latitude to spend that money, and the proposed ordinance would put those funds under City Council control, like the rest of the city budget.

Under federal and state forfeiture laws, police may seize and keep property from criminal suspects even if they are not convicted of a crime – or, in some cases, even if they are not charged with a crime. Federal agents seized more than $5 billion worth of property in 2014, and that figure has expanded dramatically in recent decades.

That figure does not account for seizures under state law by local jurisdictions, but does include revenues shared by the feds and local agencies in joint operations. For example, Washington agencies contributed nearly $7 million to the Department of Justice forfeiture accounts in 2016 and received payments of $3.6 million. The Spokane Regional Drug Task Force received nearly $74,000 in 2016, according to the DOJ.

Via Spokesman Review