Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Indistinguishable from bandits

One of the purposes of police is to protect people from banditry - being harassed and robbed while going about your business. Sadly, in the US, asset forfeiture laws have now corrupted the police to the extent that they are indistinguishable from bandits pillaging the peasantry:

The seminars offered police officers some useful tips on seizing property from suspected criminals. Don’t bother with jewelry (too hard to dispose of) and computers (“everybody’s got one already”), the experts counseled. Do go after flat screen TVs, cash and cars. Especially nice cars.

In one seminar, captured on video in September, Harry S. Connelly Jr., the city attorney of Las Cruces, N.M., called them “little goodies.” And then Mr. Connelly described how officers in his jurisdiction could not wait to seize one man’s “exotic vehicle” outside a local bar.

“A guy drives up in a 2008 Mercedes, brand new,” he explained. “Just so beautiful, I mean, the cops were undercover and they were just like ‘Ahhhh.’ And he gets out and he’s just reeking of alcohol. And it’s like, ‘Oh, my goodness, we can hardly wait.’ ”

Yes, really: they see a suspect, and the first thing they think about is stealing his car. Who's the criminal here again?

Asset forfeiture makes this possible. And in the US, they apply it in a disproportionate way (seize houses for a $40 drug deal) and for trivial crimes (drunk driving, soliciting prostitutes, and shoplifting), essentially for revenue purposes. The result has been to transform the police from protectors into predators, a uniformed, armed gang who preys on the population stealing their property on a whim.

Sadly, we're not immune to this: thanks to Phil Goff, we have a civil forfeiture regime in New Zealand. Though at least in our case there are better judicial safeguards and the police don't automatically get to keep anything they steal. But that's probably just a matter of time...