Eli Rosenberg, reporting for the New York Daily News, quotes an unidentified police officer joking that the NYPD's forfeiture scheme, "Operation Losing Proposition," should be redubbed "'Operation Mini-van,' [for] all the cars they take in.”
The officer has a point. "Operation Mini-van" better evokes the confiscation of family cars from innocent spouses, as well as the loss of transportation to innocent family members. Both of which are undoubtedly occurring under this dumb, but enduring, initiative.
Embraced a generation ago, the NYPD's controversial program, "Operation Losing Proposition," deploys scantily clad female officers to the streets of New York City. The officers then, posing as sex workers, solicit agreements to exchange money for sex acts from motorists. Ensnared motorists subsequently face misdemeanor charges and the forfeiture of the vehicles--or face misdemeanor charges and the (in-effect) ransoming of the vehicles, on threat of forfeiture, if the motorist wishes to settle, typically by consenting to pay a substantial monetary fine and agreeing to a "hold harmless" agreement that absolves the Police Department of liability, among other things.
It is debatable, of course, whether purely consensual behavior among adults should be criminalized, or even fined. Civil asset forfeiture schemes too, of course, are objectionable for a variety of reasons. We've chronicled many of them. The shredding of due process 'rights' that Americans assume they have until they meet the bizarre world of asset forfeiture, the perverse incentives that pit law enforcement against the citizens that they are supposed to be serving, and the loss of the citizens' control of police priorities, forfeited whenever law enforcement are given the power to sidestep the legislature and self-appropriate their funding, by keeping what they seize, are among the most obvious reasons that civil asset forfeiture constitutes bad policy.
Some law enforcement (but not all) cite countervailing reasons to embrace civil asset forfeiture, despite the doctrine's obvious defects. Most of those champions have financial incentives tied to perpetuating the controversial program, of course. Moreover, the policy arguments, we think, when examined, in practice and theory, point towards requiring convictions before property may be forfeited; and point towards severing department incentives to seize and forfeit private property. Time and time again, civil asset forfeiture programs (and the structuring of police incentives to profit from whatever they seize) have proven corrosive.
What ought not be open for debate, though, is structuring a program to foreseeably punish innocents. And that, of course, is what happens when you take away the family car, either permanently or temporarily holding it hostage for a payoff/fine, because the husband or Daddy got caught committing the minor misdemeanor of attempting to patronize a prostitute. If the state should assess a penalty, the punitive sanctions should be reserved for the offender. And the punishment should be proportioned to the offence. Need the family really have to lose their car, or mini-van, too, because Daddy got caught stepping outside of the marriage vows? Isn't it enough, for them, that they have to deal with the embarrassment and scrutiny? Moreover, how is it in the public's interests to deploy scantily clad female officers to tempt wayward husbands into violating marital bonds and conceding family vehicles? And doesn't the NYPD have more pressing worries? Or at least, shouldn't they have more pressing worries?
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