Federal lawmakers are swinging the axe at a particularly disturbing aspect of the drug war – civil asset forfeiture laws in the United States. Senators Rand Paul (R-KY), Angus King (I-ME) and Mike Lee (R-UT) submitted proposals in both houses of Congress earlier this week in an effort to reform a policy that profits in part off innocent citizens.
The bipartisan legislation is called the Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration Act, or FAIR Act. If passed, it would put a toe tag on the Equitable Sharing Program, a smarmy scheme that allows law enforcement agencies to capitalize on property seizures without a conviction – and without even providing evidence of a crime – while hiding behind of the Department of Justice.
Essentially, the cops are being rewarded for shaking down and stealing from suspected drug offenders, never required to prove guilt or return the seized items upon acquittal.
United States Attorney General Eric Holder attempted to remedy this conundrum earlier this month, announcing a plan to amend the civil asset forfeiture law, making it mandatory for a conviction to take place before police agencies could receive a payout. And while Holder’s upgrade to this profit strategy excited some members of the drug reform community, his move actually did more to promote a new level of underhandedness within the drug war by giving cops the incentive to do whatever they deem necessary to ensure a solid case for the prosecution.
After all, the Equitable Sharing Program has contributed a great deal of wealth to otherwise downtrodden police departments since the 1980s, with billions of dollars made off the seizure of automobiles, cash and other property. Interestingly, law enforcement agencies are given free reign on how this money is spent, so it stands to reason that they have grown accustom to staying well greased under this program. How else could they afford to drive armored assault vehicles to the homes of stoners and threaten them with automatic weapons?
“For decades police have used civil asset forfeiture to rob innocent people, taking money right out of their wallets — or even taking their home and their car — without even charging them with a crime,” Bill Piper with the Drug Policy Alliance said in a recent statement. “Like other drug war programs, civil asset forfeiture is disproportionately used against poor people of color who cannot afford to hire lawyers to get their property back.”
The FAIR Act has strong congressional support, which could mean policing for profit is on borrowed time.