The Institute for Justice’s report, “Policing for Profit” gets a nod in Conor Friedersdorf’s excellent Forbes piece, “The Shortcut to Serfdom“:
- – As the Institute for Justice documents:
- Civil forfeiture laws represent one of the most serious assaults on private property rights in the nation today. Under civil forfeiture, police and prosecutors can seize your car or other property, sell it and use the proceeds to fund agency budgets—all without so much as charging you with a crime. Unlike criminal forfeiture, where property is taken after its owner has been found guilty in a court of law, with civil forfeiture, owners need not be charged with or convicted of a crime to lose homes, cars, cash or other property. Americans are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, but civil forfeiture turns that principle on its head. With civil forfeiture, your property is guilty until you prove it innocent.
The entire article is worth reading, and I’ll excerpt further:
I regard the actual, ongoing abrogation of civil liberties in America as the clearer, more present danger, as compared to the unintended consequences of “smooth-talking politicians offering seemingly innocuous compromises.” Indeed, these issues seem to me unsurpassed in their importance.
Americans are on an assassination list already. Innocents are imprisoned today. SWAT teams took out countless doors in no-knock raids this week. The last two presidents have asserted authority unprecedented in American history… and even when they break the law it goes unpunished.
Neither President Obama nor his conservative critics satisfy me on civil liberties. Were the GOP to nominate a candidate more respectful of my rights in 2012, I’d vote for him or her, and say good riddance to the incumbent. Despite my dislike of his domestic agenda, on the other hand, I’ll vote for Obama’s re-election if his challenger prattles on about doubling Gitmo, more intrusive spying, or any other movement that pushes us farther in the wrong direction.
We can’t afford a nation less solicitous of civil liberties than is already the case.
Forced to choose, I’d rather live in the ACLU’s idea of the perfect America than a country where we repeal Obamacare, eliminate earmarks, and persist in chipping away at civil liberties to fight drugs and terrorists. The former may be a “road to serfdom.” The latter is a shortcut to the same place.
This is an important argument that I concur strongly with. America’s greatest, most vital strength springs from the clearly articulated Constitution protections for free expression, property, and due process. This is the heart of America’s economic power, which is not possible without the free exchange of information, clear rights to and protections for property, and a robust protection for citizens against the awesome power of the state.
Where years of neglect and misplaced trust have allowed law enforcement to directly retain profits through the use of civil forfeiture laws, vital parts of American democracy break down. With a profit motive, even the best among our public servants are seduced into an insidious trap, risking all for that basest of motives: greed.
Civil forfeiture laws and the large federal grants that accompany them bring military-grade equipment, cutting-edge surveillance technologies, and significant unseen costs into America’s cities and states. This is primarily a problem of democracy: the path by which law enforcement priority and protocol was set became gradually a process free of civilian oversight and accountability. We now have law enforcement agencies that operate with complete independence with regard to their mission; worse, since the costs of military equipment and surveillance technologies are now able to be kept off-budget, law enforcement unions have been able to negotiate for better and larger pension plans over time. Anyone even passably familiar with the economics of America’s state and municipal pension plans knows that this process has culminated with hundreds of billions of dollars of unfunded liabilities facing our state and local governments, risking widespread fiscal insolvency.
Ultimately, there are questions that must be answered at the voter level that sound something like these:
- What level of law enforcement services are we comfortable paying for?
- What is the extent of discretion that we can give executive branch agencies?
- How can we enforce accountability for fiscal decisions and civil rights protection?
- How far can we let public sector law enforcement unions control the discourse on public safety, national security, and civil liberties?
These are serious questions, and if America is not able to grapple successfully with them, I am afraid that much of the vitality of our national character may be lost. A nation solely facing great fiscal challenges may yet find a way to prosperity; but without robust protections of the fundamental rights to property and due process both markets and democracy are irreparably damaged and any hope of a bright future imperiled.