A recent investigational report by The Washington Post finds that law enforcement agencies across the United States have not only spent hundreds of millions of dollars obtaining military grade weapons and armored assault vehicles, but they are actually using funds obtained under federal law to pay for luxury vehicles, travel and clowns — yes, the kind you see in the circus.
Under Uncle Sam’s civil forfeiture law, police agencies can seize the property of the average American without first having to prove a crime was committed. This underhanded scam has become the fiscal lifeblood of state and local police departments, which has driven their heads so far up the ass of a cash cow that many have become ultra-resistant to the idea of losing the drug laws. This is because of Justice Department’s Equitable Sharing Program, which permits these thieves to keep an 80 percent commission on all seized assets, including the homes and vehicles of innocent citizens.
In a collection of 43,000 annual reports obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the Post found evidence of local and state police agencies being reliant on money generated from seized assets to finance nearly every aspect of their operations. This, of course, explains the reason why so many police departments have spoken out against the legalization of marijuana — the end of prohibition would cripple a large majority of their funding.
Even Brad Gates, who oversees the Justice Department’s asset forfeiture program, says police agencies have become dependent on revenue generated from seized property, calling it “a free floating slush fund,” and he believes the program should be eliminated. “All of this is fundamentally at odds with the US Constitution,” he said. “All of this is at odds with the rights that Americans have.”
It is frightening to consider that of the $2.5 billion in budgeted spending recorded in the reports, over 80 percent was financed from cash and property seizures as a result of drug busts. These proceeds have gone to militarize the American police force, affording them a wealth of automatic weapons, explosives, vacations, and even more bizarre buys.
While most of the 5,400 police and drug task forces that have capitalized on the Justice Department’s program since 2008 use these funds to purchase SWAT costumes and artillery, Reminderville Police Chief Jeff Busk in Ohio reportedly spent a portion of his seizure cash to hire Sparkles the Clown. “The money I spent on Sparkles the Clown is a very, very minute portion of the forfeited money that I spend in fighting the war on drugs,” he said in an interview with The Post.
Peter Carr, a spokesperson for the Justice Department, says that drug task forces that participate in the Equitable Sharing Program should be using the money as supplemental revenue, not as a way for the department to exist outside of its operating budget. “Any funds received through the equitable sharing program are meant to enhance and supplement, not supplant or replace an agency’s appropriated budget and resources,” he said.
However, the Justice Department only employs about 15 people to audit the distribution of these funds, which makes it easy to overlook an obvious abuse to the system. In fact, a recent audit uncovered a $78,000 discrepancy on behalf of the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department in Colorado, in which the force apparently used asset revenue to finance a trip to a local ski resort. And they believe drug dealers are the criminals!
It is important to understand that your local police department has the ability to profit from your seized personal assets as long as they have a reason to suspect you are guilty of a drug offense. Police do not have to charge you first — all they have to do is establish suspicion. Unfortunately, the civil forfeiture law differs from criminal forfeitures, which only allows the property to be permanently seized if a person is convicted.