Monday, March 21, 2016

Bringing the sunshine to asset forfeiture

Steve Wilson reported at Mississippi

Gun rights advocate Rick Ward filed several Freedom of Information Act requests in January with the city of Hattiesburg to provide him a list of all the guns seized by its police department since 1991. Some of those guns, Ward says, were taken in violation of state law.

He was told that the information would cost him more than $5,000, at $5 per page. Ward threatened a lawsuit and the city later reduced the price of the records to $78. Now the Mississippi Legislature is considering creation of a free, searchable databases of all seized property maintained by the state.

Under Mississippi law, law enforcement agencies don’t have to keep any records of seized property. But if House Bill 1410 becomes law, police departments will have to start keeping detailed records. The bill is now before the Senate Accountability, Efficiency, Transparency Committee.

CONFISCATED: The city of Richland in central Mississippi has several city vehicles it says 
were seized,  or tearfully donated” from a three-time DUI offender and a drug dealer.

HB 1410, also known as the Asset Forfeiture Transparency Act, would require the state’s Commissioner of Public Safety to maintain a searchable database of all property and cash seized by state and local law enforcement agencies. If the act becomes law, every law enforcement agency would have to file annual reports to the Department of Public Safety detailing:

*Each seizure and its value.
*Whether the suspect was accused of a crime.
*The alleged criminal offense that led to the seizure.
*Whether the property was forfeited under civil or criminal proceedings.
*A description of the case’s resolution.
*How much it cost for the seized property to be sold and the selling price.
*If the property is retained by the agency, what is its use.
*The date of destruction if the property was destroyed by the agency.

Lee McGrath, legislative counsel at the nonprofit Institute for Justice, said the legislation would be important step toward reform.

“It’s an essential first step toward reforming a bad forfeiture system,” McGrath said. “Legislators need to know the facts on how seizures and forfeitures are being used in Mississippi. Reporting will have a salutary and informational effects. Law enforcement will have to reveal what it’s doing and that’ll be beneficial to citizens as well as legislators. Other states have enacted reporting requirements.”

Mississippi civil asset forfeiture laws earned a C- from the Institute for Justice in its report, “Policing for Profit.” The state ranked 20th for federal forfeiture, with $47 million collected from 2000 to 2013. Under current law, law enforcement agencies simply have to connect property to a crime to seize it and use proceeds from it to supplement their budgets. Those whose property is seized have to prove in a civil court that their property was not involved with or the proceeds from a crime.

While seizures and fines are often line items in city budgets around the state, the lack of forfeiture record keeping guidelines keeps all but the most general information out of the public’s hands.

Related: Richland builds $4.1 million police station with seized funds

McGrath said that home state of Minnesota could provide an example for Mississippi for the next step in the reform process. Since 2014, Minnesota has limited law enforcement agencies to seizing property only after a criminal conviction or if a property owner confesses to a crime involving the property.

He said Minnesota law enforcement agencies had 7,000 seizures last year, about 20 per day, and the average value of the property or currency was $1,400.

“I think this law will be the basis for a healthy public policy debate about the use of forfeiture and the implications that it has, and the policy of allowing law enforcement agencies to supplement their budgets will come under greater scrutiny,” McGrath said. “I believe sunshine is the best disinfectant.”

Kingfish note: Good bill.  The people have a right to know what property is seized by the government.   Who is watching the watchers?


Anonymous said...

Go Rick!!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a very good bill.

Anonymous said...

Nice job Rick - while I agree with depriving criminals of the fruits of their "labor," so many citizens engaged in lawful commerce have been victims of the "guilty until proven innocent" mentality of certain organizations.

For example:


There are thousands of similar such cases, they just didn't have the resources to fight for the recovery of their property...

Anonymous said...

It's about time. I don't have a problem with LEO seizing property when a crime has been committed and a conviction is made. But to do so j"just because" is in its self a crime. It's big business for many jurisdictions and they have become experts at it

Anonymous said...

Let me start off by saying Kingfish and I don't disagree much but on this issue we do.

This bill will be an unfunded mandate on DPS which will go back to the tax payers of this state. This bill not only wants DPS to keep up with all seized property but also every drug case and evidence that is taken. As of now once a drug case is disposed of drug evidence is turned over to the MBN for destruction. All of this is kept up with by federal guide lines. This will be an almost impossible task for the DPS.

As for supplementing budgets for law enforcement agencies, it is very clear in our asset forfeiture laws that these funds cannot supplement a budget. I know that several cities and counties have tried but it is not allowed.

When it comes to either civil or criminal forfeiture cases the state has to prove certain elements to prove these cases. This is why we have courts to make sure these things are present. You may not like the system but its all we have. Every case where property has been taken has to go before a judge and that judge has to sign the order. Every person has their day in court.

Weather you like him or not we do elect a state auditor to keep track of all spending by local government agencies and that includes seized money and property.

The city of Richland was brought up in this article because of their success. Just because Richland only has 7000 residents does not mean anything except the fact they did not have to pay for a new police department but instead it was paid for by drug runners. With that being said I don't always agree with the things that Richland is doing. The seized vehicles should only be used for enforcement purposes. Richland uses vehicles for public works, parks and rec and the mayor has been known to drive a seized vehicle when he likes it. I believe the statue is clear on this and should not be done, but once again this falls on the auditor. Also Richland supplies officers to the city of Pelahatchie to work the interstate. Law enforcement should stay in their own jurisdiction when enforcing laws. According to an article in the C-L Richland has been known to go all over central Mississippi enforcing drug laws. This should stop.

The post also talked about the years between 2000-13 and the 47 million dollars however it does not say anything about the hundreds upon hundreds of millions worth of drugs that were also taken off the streets. This is one area that Mississippi is not last or close to last in the nation. We should be proud of our folks in blue who go out and put it on the line everyday to stop these drug dealers.

We need to remember that these drug groups make millions and millions from the illegal drug trade. If they are successful at getting our drug asset forfeiture laws changed or done away with then they will make even more millions. Don't think for one second that this is not who pushing this because to move their products from Mexico to the east coast they almost always have to come into Mississippi.

I know I will get many comments on this post and I will be ready to answer but I will not get in a pissing match.

Anonymous said...

I cannot understand how carrying a large amount of money can be called a crime.

Anonymous said...

2:26 this is George Bush and the patriot act. It is now ok to question people who have large sums of CASH. Watch HBO series last week tonight with John Oliver. Civil Forfeiture. It is eye opening, and funny.

Anonymous said...

2:26, to quote a now deceased native Mississippian we sadly do not honor, "It's not a war on drugs. It's a war on personal freedom and don't you forget it."

Anonymous said...

Glad this is happening. People should not lose their property if they are not convicted of a crime. Should be a no-brainer. Innocent until proven guilty, and the burden rests with the state.

Anonymous said...

2:26. All my friends carry large amounts of cash wrapped in plastic and hidden in secret compartments of their cars. Doesn't everybody?

Anonymous said...

Hey, 2:16 --

Hope asking you to answer this doesn't equate to a "pissing match."

Tell me what's Constitutional, or consistent with due process, about seizing cash or property BEFORE a conviction, then a reversed burden of proof if you try to get it back. In other words, "prove this money WASN'T used for illegal purposes, or we keep it."

I'll wait.

Oh, and "these drug groups." That's precious.

But just to clarify: you favor confiscating property without due process. Right?

Anonymous said...

2:26, the way you or your friends want to carry your money is your business. There shouldn't be a law against carrying cash any way you decide you want to.

Anonymous said...

re 2:16. It is not an undue burden to ask any governmental entity to disclose when they sieze private property from a citizen. Such a taking should not occur until the government achieves the burden of proof.

Anonymous said...

I've known Rick since his days with the Ridgeland PD back in the early '80's. He did great work back then and continues to do so these days. He spends many uncompensated hours defending our 2nd Amendment rights. We all need to do whatever we can to support Rick and his efforts to make sure each and every county in MS follows the State Law regarding LEGAL handgun possession, whether or not the Board of Supervisors like it. They don't enact laws, the Legislature does. By the way, I hate that Rick was not elected to the Legislature last year. He would have been there fighting hard for all of us.

Anonymous said...

So 2:16 said: "This bill not only wants DPS to keep up with all seized property but also every drug case and evidence that is taken."

Shouldn't you already be doing that?

Let me get this straight - you don't keep track of your evidence, or what you seized from whom, and have the temerity to whine about a requirement to do so??? Isn't that kinda one of the most basic things a law enforcement agency does, keep records of stuff? Again, the DPS never ceases to amaze me in their ineptitude. Maybe they should have an evidence audit from the State Auditor's office, oh wait.....

What a joke.

Throw Away The Key said...

"This bill not only wants DPS to keep up with all seized property but also every drug case and evidence that is taken.....This will be an almost impossible task for the DPS."

Next we'll expect them to produce in court some evidence to convict speeders. And even something to back up a search and seizure involving a private residence. Maybe even some notes made to show who was arrested over the weekend and why.

Let's not get in a pissing match, but I think we've just heard from a person with a piss-poor notion of good law enforcement.

Anonymous said...

What is the status of the Richland v Pearl PD case, where Richland made an arrest in Pearl without notification to the Pearl PD, and confiscated $80,000 and refused to turn it over to Pearl, even though the entire incident was in Pearl?

Anonymous said...

I hope all on here that pay taxes understand that this will be another burden on us. All law enforcement already keeps up with all of this. This group only wants this so that they don't have to go to each agency to get this information which is already public record. All seizures have to be filed with the courts and all spending also has to be kept up with. This is just another group from out of state wanting to tell us how we should do things.

Anonymous said...

9:30, it sounds like there should be some group within the state that tells law enforcement how they should do things. Some one needs to remind them that what they confiscate does not go into their pockets.

Anonymous said...

9:30 - it's called the law. For starters: § 97-43-11; and § 41-29-153. But these morons are too busy to follow the law.

Anonymous said...

So show me which officers have gotten rich off of drug seizures and who is not following the law.

Anonymous said...

Let's see - Jackson, MS; Chicago, IL; Philadelphia, PA; Detroit MI, FBI, West Memphis, AR; etc., etc. When I saw a Fed, we saw these cases all of the time - lax procedures along with "roadside plea bargains" make for a cottage industry for those cops who have enough discipline to keep their mouths shut and not spend conspicuously. And don't think for a minute that the newly found wealth of a particular agency doesn't generate "friends with benefits" type contracts with the accompanying kickbacks.

I'm long retired, but remember it take a lot of discipline to lie for an entire career...

Anonymous said...

So my last post was rife with typos but I'm sure you get the drift "When I was a fed" and "it takes a lot of discipline"

Anonymous said...

People seem to forget about the cops who have been caught buying the forfeited things for a couple of dollars. I remember some a little while back who bought pickups, boats, and many guns for less than $10.

Anonymous said...

Rick Ward is a bulldog. He ain't gonna let go. Got to know him when he taught the Enhanced Carry class I signed up for. Learned things from him at the range during that course that I never knew I didn't know. Great guy.

Anonymous said...

But how will they get to keep the good stuff for themselves if there is a record of seized items?

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