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You’re Not Helping

On July 12, 2011, in states, by John Payne

Michigan State Representative Kurt Heise introduced a bill this session that would allow law enforcement agencies to use forfeiture dollars for any expenses, as opposed to only those related to the drug war. Unfortunately, the state’s house of representatives passed the bill at the end of June, and it’s now in the state senate. Here are some details on how the bill would change current law:

House Bill 4349…allows police departments across the state to use the proceeds from the sale of forfeited property as an alternative funding source for all law enforcement activities. These funds can only be used to supplement, not replace, budgeted amounts for police protection.

“Some police jurisdictions, including Canton, have a large surplus of drug forfeiture money that is no longer needed for drug enforcement-related equipment,” Heise said. “Like many of Michigan’s local governments, they are struggling financially. This legislation gives them the option to use drug forfeiture funds for other law enforcement expenditures.”

The problem is that the more discretion police have in spending forfeiture dollars, the greater their incentive to abuse the system. For instance, Texas requires that forfeiture funds be spent on “official purposes” by the agencies that receive it. However, when the forfeiture outrages in Tenaha, were exposed a couple years ago, we discovered the police defined the phrase expansively to include money for catering, candy, and a popcorn machine.

This is a move in the wrong direction. Legislators should be putting more restrictions on how police can use forfeiture money or–better yet–keeping it away from law enforcement agencies altogether. The only way to ensure the forfeiture honeypot doesn’t corrupt law enforcement is to remove it from their long reach.

Story via Radley Balko.

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