Law enforcement in Iredell County, North Carolina are practically inviting corruption into their force with this $400,000 cash seizure. Let’s set aside the strong possibility that the seizing officers were patrolling for money as opposed to drugs, and assume that this seizure occurred as part of a “random traffic stop” as they claim. The proposed uses of this money are still disturbing:
The money can be used to pay drug investigators’ salaries, purchase cars and equipment in the Oredell County Sheriff’s Office Crime Lab.
“We have to try to stay even with or at least try to stay a little bit ahead of the criminal factor,” said Lt. Johnnie Sutphin, who works in the crime lab.
The first part is absolutely false. As I’ve pointed out before, federal equitable sharing dollars cannot be used to fund ongoing operations, such as salaries. Purchasing equipment for the lab raises issues of impartiality. If the lab is beholden to forfeiture funds, they have a direct incentive to find criminal activity where none exists.
Even more revealing is this statement by an unnamed undercover investigator:
“We can go out here and pay for this equipment without going to the county commission and asking them for more money…”
Right. That’s part of the problem. Government agencies are not supposed to be run like medieval fiefdoms where all property can be taken by the feudal lord. One of the primary ideas behind representative government is that only elected officials can disburse public money because only they have a mandate from the public. Forfeiture turns that idea on its head.