Asset Forfeiture

RSS Feed for this category

Law Enforcement: Facing Budget Woes, Minneapolis Axes Dope Squad

Facing a $5 million budget deficit, the Minneapolis Police Department responded Monday by disbanding its narcotics squad. That makes Minneapolis the only major city in the US without one. Last year, the 14-member narcotics squad investigated nearly 4,000 cases resulting in 519 federal and state charges. Officers seized about $300,000 in drug money, as well as 24 guns and 26 vehicles. Police Chief Tim Dolan said the department still has sufficient resources to handle drug cases. He said community resource teams in the department’s five precincts will handle street-level and mid-level dealing, while the Violent Offender Task Force will work on high-level cases. The department also has officers seconded to an anti-drug task force with state, local, and DEA members, and it has just started a gang unit, he said. "Are we going to be as good as we were before in dealing with drug cases? I don't know," he said. "Their stats speak for themselves." The former head narc, Lt. Marie Przynski, was not happy. "This unit has been highly productive, if not the most productive unit in the Minneapolis Police Department," Przynski said. "I'm disappointed, and so are my officers, about this decision." The 14 former narcs will be reassigned, with three of them joining the Financial Crimes unit, including an asset forfeiture specialist and a specialist in pharmaceutical investigations ranging from forged prescriptions to insurance fraud. Other members of the defunct dope squad will be assigned at least temporarily to street patrols. The department still needs to cut 50 positions to get under budget. It may also reduce the number of deputy chiefs from three to two. Still, Dolan said neither street patrols nor key units, such as homicide, robbery, sex crimes, juvenile, and domestic abuse would be reduced. One city council member, Ralph Remington, suggested that the department could have more money if its members quit misbehaving. Just three weeks ago, the city paid out $495,000 to a man slugged by a Minneapolis police officer during a drug raid last year. That was only the most recent high-profile settlement paid by the city for departmental misbehavior. "The department could save a lot of money if they corrected the bad behavior of a few bad cops," said Remington.
Location: 
Minneapolis, MN
United States

Using Drug Laws to Steal From Innocent People

Radley Balko has a story in the Jackson Free Press noting that the Supreme Court has decided to hear a disturbing asset forfeiture case from Illinois. In case anyone needs a refresher on the absurdity of our forfeiture laws, this sums it up nicely: 

Civil asset forfeiture is a particularly odious outgrowth of the drug war. While few would argue that criminals ought to be able to keep the proceeds of their crimes, civil forfeiture allows the government to seize and keep property without actually having to prove a crime was committed in the first place. Hence, forfeiture cases tend to have names like U.S. v. Eight Thousand Eight Hundred and Fifty Dollars, or U.S. v. One 1987 Jeep Wrangler. Proceeds from civil forfeiture at the state and local level usually go back to the police departments and prosecutors' offices, giving them a clear and unmistakable incentive to seize as much property as often as possible.

Balko goes on to explain why the Supreme Court isn’t likely to curb the practice and I agree with his analysis. Hopefully, however, the case will at least afford us a rare opportunity to spark national discussion about the chronic abuse of asset forfeiture laws.

As sad as this sounds, the best case scenario here might a New York Times headline that reads "Supreme Court Rules Police May Confiscate Property Without Evidence of a Crime." If nothing else, I hope we can all at least acknowledge that this is happening.

Canada: Supreme Court Clarifies Asset Forfeiture Law, Allows Graduated Sanctions

In its first review of Canada's asset forfeiture laws, the Canadian Supreme court ruled last Friday that the government could not seize the home of a Vancouver woman who grew marijuana there. In Craig v. Crown, the court decided 5-2 that Judy Ann Craig could keep her home even though she was convicted of growing more than $100,000 worth of marijuana there.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/canadasupremecourt1.jpg
Canadian Supreme Court (Philippe Landreville, scc-csc.gc.ca)
But in two related cases, the high court ruled 4-3 to uphold a partial forfeiture order against a Quebec man and voted unanimously to uphold the seizure of a home belonging to a Surrey, BC, couple who bought it solely to grow marijuana. The trio of decisions means that Canadian judges must weigh the particulars of each case and can issue escalating forfeiture orders depending on the circumstances of each case.

"Full forfeiture may be anticipated, for example, in the case of a fortified property purchased for criminal purposes and solely dedicated to the commercial production and distribution of illegal substances, perhaps with a connection to organized crime," Justice Rosalie Abella wrote for the court majority. "On the other hand, one might decline to order forfeiture in the case of an individual with no criminal record and no connection to organized crime who grows very little marijuana in her home."

The rulings also direct lower courts to consider asset forfeiture separately from jail sentences or fines so that defendants are not allowed to in effect buy their way out of jail. "Those without property should not be treated more harshly than those who have it," Abella wrote. "In my view, the loss or retention of liberty should not depend on whether an individual has property available as a sacrificial alternative."

Craig, 57, had no criminal record when she began growing for a friend with AIDS in 1998. But she admitted making about $100,000 a year off her operation and had 186 plants when busted in 2003. Still, she was considered a small-time player with no ties to gangs. She served a one-year probationary sentence and paid a $100,000 fine for unpaid taxes and a victim surcharge of $15,000.

Craig's attorney, Howard Rubin, told The Canadian Press that he was thrilled with results. "She's not a career criminal. She's not a Hell's Angel. She's a lady, 57 years old, who works really hard," he said, adding that she currently worked as a wholesaler. "This was a huge weight on her that has now been relieved. This tool of forfeiture can wind up being really oppressive if it's used against people who have small grow operations, no record and no involvement with organized crime -- which is Ms. Craig."

Asset Forfeiture: Highway Robbery in Texas

Police in small town Tenaha, Texas, near the Louisiana line, have found a way of turning law enforcement into a lucrative racket. According to a recently filed federal lawsuit, police there routinely stopped passing motorists -- the vast majority of them black -- and threatened them with felony arrests on charges such as money laundering unless they agreed to sign over their property on the spot.

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/doj_asset_forfeiture.gif
teaching evil: US Dept. of Justice assets forfeiture program logo
More than 140 people accepted that Hobson's choice between June 2006 and June 2008, according to court records cited by the Chicago Tribune, which ran a lengthy article on the practice this week. Among them was a black grandmother who handed over $4,000 in cash and an interracial couple from Houston who handed over $6,000 in cash after police threatened to arrest them and send their children to foster care. Neither the couple nor the grandmother were charged with any crime.

The waiver form that the couple signed giving up their rights is particularly chilling. "We agree that this case may be taken up and considered by the Court without further notice to us during this proceeding. In exchange for this agreement, no criminal charges shall be filed on either of us as a result of this case, and our children shall not be turned over to CPS."

Officials in Tenaha, which sits on a heavily traveled highway between Houston and popular gambling destinations in Louisiana, said they were fighting drug trafficking and were operating in accord with state asset forfeiture law, which allows local police agencies to keep drug money and other goods used in the commission of a crime.

"We try to enforce the law here," said George Bowers, mayor of the town of 1,046 residents, where boarded-up businesses outnumber open ones and City Hall sports a broken window. "We're not doing this to raise money. That's all I'm going to say at this point," he told the Tribune.

But civil rights attorneys said what Tenaha was doing amounted to highway robbery and filed a federal class action law suit to halt the practice. Tenaha officials "have developed an illegal 'stop and seize' practice of targeting, stopping, detaining, searching and often seizing property from apparently non-white citizens and those traveling with non-white citizens," according to the lawsuit, which was filed in US District Court in the Eastern District of Texas.

One of the attorneys involved, David Guillory of Nacogdoches, told the Tribune he combed through county court records and found nearly 200 cases where Tenaha police had seized cash and property from motorists. In only 50 of those cases were drug charges filed. But that didn't stop police from seizing cash, jewelry, cell phones, and even cars from motorists not found with contraband or charged with any crime.

The practice was so routine in Tenaha that Guillory was able to find pre-signed and pre-notarized police affidavits, lacking only the description of the "contraband" to be seized.

"The whole thing is disproportionately targeted toward minorities, particularly African-Americans," Guillory said. "None of these people have been charged with a crime, none were engaged in anything that looked criminal. The sole factor is that they had something that looked valuable."

It's not just Tenaha, and it's not just blacks. Hispanics in Texas allege they are the victims of discriminatory highway stops and seizures, too. The practice is especially prevalent on the handful of US highways heading south from the I-10 corridor toward Mexico.

One prominent state legislator, Sen. John Whitmire, chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, said police across the state are increasingly relying on seizures to fund their operating budgets. "If used properly, it's a good law-enforcement tool to see that crime doesn't pay," said Whitmire. "But in this instance, where people are being pulled over and their property is taken with no charges filed and no convictions, I think that's theft."

Whitmire said the problem extends beyond Tenaha, and he's going to do something about it. On Monday, he filed a bill that would require police to go before a judge before attempting to seize property under the asset forfeiture laws. Ultimately, he said, he is looking for a law that allows police to seize property only after a suspect is charged and convicted in court.

"The law has gotten away from what was intended, which was to take the profits of a bad guy's crime spree and use it for additional crime-fighting," Whitmire said. "Now it's largely being used to pay police salaries -- and it's being abused because you don't even have to be a bad guy to lose your property."

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A trio of bad apples from Arizona, including a DARE officer with a penchant for sexual assault, made the news this week, while the city of Berwyn, Illinois, found itself in a bit of hot water over the way it used asset forfeiture funds. Let's get to it:

In Nogales, Arizona, a former Nogales DARE officer was convicted last Friday on numerous charges related to unwanted sexual contact with young women. Ramon Borbon, 40, was convicted of sexual abuse and obstructing a criminal investigation in the case of a 16-year-old girl whom he forced to touch him inappropriately and threatened to stop her from going to authorities. He was also convicted of sexual assault and kidnapping charges in the case of a 19-year-old woman for restraining and raping her. He was in uniform during both incidents. In a motion ruling during trial, Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge James Soto wrote that Borbon has "a character trait which gives rise to an aberrant sexual propensity" and that he appeared to have "identified young, vulnerable females with a history of psychological and/or substance abuse problems that are less likely to come forward and if they do, are less likely to be considered credible." There are also at least four other complaints of sexual abuse against Borbon. The police department had earlier found them to be "without merit." He will be sentenced December 12.

In Phoenix, a Maricopa County jail guard was arrested Monday for allegedly smuggling cocaine in for an inmate. Detention officer Ryan White, 27, accepted sexual favors from two women who were the inmates' roommates in return for sneaking in the coke, which was found in his uniform pocket. He is now charged with two felonies -- promoting jail contraband and assisting in a criminal syndicate.

In Coolidge, Arizona, a guard at the Corrections Corporation of America's Central Arizona Detention Center was arrested last week by the FBI on charges he tried to smuggle cocaine into the prison there. Juan Nunez is charged with attempted provision of a prohibited object to an inmate and possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. According to the criminal complaint in the case, Nunez had been negotiating for the past two weeks with an inmate's family to bring cocaine into the prison. On November 6, Nunez met with an FBI agent possessing as an outside source for cocaine and accepted a half-ounce of cocaine and $1,600 for agreeing to smuggle it into the private prison. He was arrested after that meeting. A conviction for trying to bring a prohibited object to an inmate in this case carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison, a $250,000 fine or both, and a conviction for possession of cocaine for sale carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison, a $1 million fine or both.

In Berwyn, Illinois, the US Justice Department has accused the city of Berwyn of misusing drug forfeiture money. After reviewing the city's annual audit of asset forfeiture spending, the department's Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section sent the city a letter citing various "impermissible expenditures," including spending too much of the asset forfeiture fund in the years 2004 and 2005. Since asset forfeiture funds are generally supposed to be used for crime prevention, the department cited more than $120,000 used to pay salaries, $88,000 in "cash transfers" to the Berwyn Park District, $156,000 in "cash transfers" to two local school districts, and $91,000 for bus trip for senior citizens. In all, the city may have to pay back more than $760,000 in improperly disbursed asset forfeiture funds. While schools, parks, and senior citizen bus rides are all worthy activities, spending asset forfeiture funds on them is a violation of the law.

Police Steal Money from Elderly Medical Marijuana Patients

It is not at all uncommon for the war on drugs to target the very last people among us who ought to be treated as criminals:

For example, the 90-year-old couple, Lester ("Smitty") and Mary Smith--who were raided at their Philo home last week (9.24.08) with law enforcement seizing their life savings and all their plants in the process--are qualified patients with doctors' approvals and did nothing wrong.

Smitty said, "I wasn't worried a bit. I knew it was legal. I planted six plants two years in a row and this year, I planted 17 for me and Mary. That's not too many is it? My wife is very ill, confined to a wheelchair or recliner. She likes the bud tea. She has severe arthritis. It makes it easier for her to get around. She walks easier; she can walk to the bathroom even by herself."

Smitty has health issues too. "I have heart problems, blood clots, stomach cramps, emphysema, bad hips. I've had a heart attack. I sometimes get strong chest pains and can't breathe right. I take nitroglycerine. That brings me back. My doctors want me to take more x-rays here locally but that would be a big expense. Usually, I go to the Veterans Hospital and they pay for it."

Mary Smith was forced to stay in the house by herself during the 5-hour raid while additional warrants for an adjoining parcel were telephoned in and delivered, allowing sheriff's deputies to enter all the residences.

The elderly Smiths were not arrested or charged with a crime, because there was none. Sheriff's deputies were apparently more interested in robbery than arrest (excuse my french). They seized the two things that mattered most to the ill couple--their medicine, all 17 plants, leaving nothing--and their life savings, $52,000 from Mary Smith's inheritance and $29,000 in cashed in CDs.

"As soon as the bail-out hit, I cashed in my CDs and put the money in a safe in my house. I did not sell pot to get it. But turns out my money was not safe. They stormed in here and turned our world upside down. I thought I was legal." [IndyBay]

This is the real war on drugs. It’s not some magic formula that only screws over bad people. The drug war proliferates injustice everywhere it goes.

Victim’s Rights in the War on Drugs

Pete Guither pointed out the other day that the Republican platform contains this vague statement on victim’s rights:

The innocent have far fewer rights than the accused. We call on Congress to correct this imbalance by sending to the states for ratification a constitutional amendment to protect the rights of crime victims.

I wonder if such a law would protect victims of armed robbery when police search their home, arrest them for marijuana, confiscate even more of their money than the robbers did, and ultimately decline to investigate the initial robbery for which they were called in the first place.

Victim’s rights is an interesting idea. Let’s talk about it after we end the drug war.

Prosecutors Spend Confiscated Drug Money on Margarita Machine, Win 'Best Margarita' at County Fair

Drenched in tequila, the brave men who fight the war on drugs will be the first to tell you that our asset forfeiture laws are a vital resource for law-enforcement:

IN 2005 the Montgomery County district attorney’s office held a party at the county fair in east Texas. They had beer, liquor and a margarita machine. The district attorney, Mike McDougal, at first denied that this had been paid for by drug money. He acknowledged that his office had a margarita machine at the fair. In fact, he said, they won first prize for best margarita. But he insisted they came by it fair and square. In any case, he pointed out, the county’s drug fund was at his discretion. Under Texas forfeiture law, counties can keep most of the money and property they rustle up.


Mr. McDougal…fessed up in the end about the margarita machine. [Economist]

It really more or less speaks for itself. They spent confiscated drug proceeds on booze, won an award for their awesome margaritas, and then lied about it. These are the people that will put you behind bars for smoking marijuana. They are the champions in the fight against drug abuse and they are as good at putting people in jail for drugs as they are at mixing alcoholic beverages.

Literally drunk on their own power, the hypocrites on the front lines of our war on drugs ought to arrest themselves if they ever sober up.

Feature: Vested Interests of Prohibition I: The Police

Drug prohibition has been a fact of life in the United States for roughly a century now. While it was ostensibly designed to protect American citizens from the dangers of drug use, it now has a momentum of its own, independent of that original goal, at which it has failed spectacularly. As the prohibitionist response to drug use and sales deepened over the decades, then intensified even more with the bipartisan drug war of the Reagan era, prohibition and its enforcement have created a constellation of groups, industries, and professions that have grown wealthy and powerful feeding at the drug war trough.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/texasraid.jpg
By virtue of their dependence on the continuation of drug prohibition, such groups -- whether law enforcement, the prison-industrial complex, the drug treatment industry, the drug testing industry, the drug testing-evading industry, the legal profession, among others -- can be fairly said to have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. While the fact that such groups are, in one way or another, profiting from prohibition, does necessarily negate the sincerity of their positions, it does serve to call into question whether some among them continue to adhere to drug prohibition because they really believe in it, or merely because they gain from it.

In what will be an occasional series of reports on "The Vested Interests of Prohibition," we will be examining just who profits, how, by how much, and how much influence they have on the political decision-making process. This week we begin with a group so obvious it sometimes vanishes into the background, as if it were just part of the way things are in this world. That is the American law enforcement establishment.

That's right, the cops, the PO-lice. The Man makes a pretty penny off the drug war. How much? In an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times earlier this month, long-time drug war critic Orange County (California) Superior Court Judge James Gray put the figure at $69 billion a year worldwide for the past 40 years, for a total of $2.5 trillion spent on drug prohibition. In written testimony presented before a hearing of the Congressional Joint Economic Committee last month, University of Maryland drug policy analyst Peter Reuter, more conservatively put combined current state, federal, and local drug policy spending at $40 billion a year, with roughly 70-75% going for law enforcement.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/car-search.jpg
In either case, it's a whole lot of taxpayer money. And for what? Despite years of harsher and harsher drug law enforcement, despite drug arrests per year approaching the two million mark, despite imprisoning half a million Americans who didn't do anything to anybody, despite all the billions of dollars spent ostensibly to stop drug use, the US continues to be the world's leading junkie. That point was hit home yet again earlier this month when researchers examining World Health Organization data found the US had the planet's highest cannabis use rates (more than twice those of cannabis-friendly Holland) and the world's highest cocaine use rates. (See related feature story this issue.)

By just about any measure, drug prohibition and drug law enforcement have failed at their stated goal: reducing drug use in America. Yet in general, American law enforcement has never met a drug law reform it liked, and never met a harsh new law it didn't. The current, almost hysterical, campaign around restoring the Justice Action Grants (JAG or Byrne grant) program cuts imposed by the Bush administration in a rare fit of fiscal responsibility is a case in point.

The Byrne grant program, which primarily funds those scandal-plagued multi-jurisdictional anti-drug law enforcement task forces, has been criticized by everyone from the ACLU to the GAO as wasteful, ineffective, and ridden with abuses, yet the law enforcement community has mobilized a powerful lobbying offensive to restore those funds. Now, after yet another year where congressional Democrats, fearful of being seen as "soft on crime," scurried to smooth law enforcement's ruffled feathers, the Byrne grant program is set to receive $550 million next year, a huge $350 million increase over this year's reduced -- but not zeroed out -- levels.

"The law enforcement lobby is enormously powerful," said Eric Sterling, former counsel to the House Judiciary Committee, who now heads the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. "Law enforcement unions are extremely important in endorsements for state and local elections, especially in primary elections."

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/police-helicopter.jpg
When it comes to Washington, rank-and-file organizations like the Fraternal Order of Police are joined by a whole slew of national management organizations, such as the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Sheriff's Association, the National District Attorneys Association, and the National Narcotics Officers Associations Coalition. On occasion, as is the case with the campaign to restore the Byrne grants, groups like the National Association of County Officials (which includes sheriffs) lead the charge for law enforcement.

"All of these groups are very powerful, and members of Congress are loath to be criticized by them or vote against them," said Sterling.

"Without a doubt, the war on drugs creates a lot of jobs for law enforcement and various aspects of the war on drugs create huge profits for law enforcement," said Bill Piper, national affairs director and Capitol Hill lobbyist for the Drug Policy Alliance. "With those revenues, they can employ more police and continue to expand their turf. The law enforcement lobby is very strong and effective," said Piper. "No one wants to deny them what they want. The Democrats are terrified of them, and most Republicans, too. Everyone just wants to go back to their district and say they're tough on drugs. The law enforcement drug war lobby is a train that is very, very difficult to stop."

Faced with those solemn line-ups of men in blue, American flags fluttering behind them, most politicians would rather comply with the demands of law enforcement than not, whether at the state, local, or federal level. And that's fine with police, who have become habituated to a steady infusion of drug war money.

"Law enforcement at all levels of government has become dependent on the drug war, which in turn is predicated on drug prohibition," said former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper, who joined the anti-prohibitionist group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) shortly after his retirement. "They are addicted to the revenue streams that have become predictable and necessary for the day-to-day operations of departments all across the country," he continued.

"State and local governments get anti-crime funding from the federal government, and there are line-items dedicated to things like those regional narcotics task forces," Stamper said. "It wasn't a whole lot of money at first, but over the years we are now talking billions of dollars."

It isn't just departments that benefit from prosecuting the drug war, individual police officers can and do, too. "Both police departments and individual officers have a strong vested interest in maintaining prohibition," said Sterling as he related the story of his ride-along with Montgomery County, Maryland, police a few years ago. After cruising suburban malls and byways for a few hours one cold December night, Sterling and the officer he accompanied got a call that an officer needed back-up.

The officer needing back-up was accompanied by Sterling's then assistant, Tyler Smith, who, when Sterling's car arrived, told him that his (Smith's) cop had pulled over nine cars and convinced four of their drivers to consent to drug searches. In the present case, the officer had scored. The three young men in the car he had pulled over consented to a search, and he found a pipe in the car and a few specks of marijuana in one young man's pocket. By now four different police cars were on the scene.

"Now, all four officers are witnesses," Sterling noted. "That means every time there's a court proceeding, they go down to the courthouse and collect three hours overtime pay. They're almost always immediately excused, but they still get the pay. That's four cops getting paid for one cop's bust, so they have an enormous personal stake in backing up the one gung-ho cop who's out there trolling for busts. Collars for dollars is what they call it," Sterling related.

"I think we need to take into account the fact that individual officers at all levels are character challenged and profit personally from prohibition," said Stamper.

"It's also generally easy police work," Sterling noted. "You start in a position of strength and assertion, you're not arriving at a scene of conflict, you're not stopping a robbery or responding to a gun call; it's a relatively safe form of police activity. You get to notch an arrest, and that makes it look like you're being productive."

And despite repeated police protestations to the contrary, enforcing the drug laws is just not that dangerous. Every year, the National Police Officers Memorial puts out a list of the officers who died in the line of duty. Every year, out of the one or two or three hundred killed, barely a handful died enforcing the drug laws. And those dead officers are all too often used by their peers as poster-children for increased drug law enforcement.

But if law enforcement profits handsomely with taxpayer dollars at the state or federal level as it pursues the chimera of drug war success, it has another important prohibition-related revenue stream to tap into: asset forfeitures. Every Monday, the Wall Street Journal publishes official DEA legal notices of seizures as required by law. On the Monday of June 30, the legal notice consisted of 3 1/4 pages of tiny four-point type representing hundreds of seizures for that week alone.

According to the US Justice Department, federal law enforcement agencies alone seized $1.6 billion -- mainly in cash -- last year alone. That's up three-fold from the $567 million seized in 2003. But that figure doesn't include hundreds of millions of dollars more the feds got as their share of seizures by states, nor does it include the unknown hundreds of millions of dollars more seized by state and local agencies and handled under state asset forfeiture laws. Last year, Texas agencies alone seized more than $125 million.

"Revenue from forfeited assets represents a particularly unconscionable source of funds, particularly when police agencies set out to make busts to create additional funding for themselves," Stamper said. "Even if the money is going to agencies and not into the pockets of individual cops, you still develop that mentality that we're enforcing the law in order to make money. That's not how it's supposed to be," he said.

"Unfortunately, there are many departments that see this as a useful way to deter drug use, even though there is no evidence to support that," said Sterling. "Still, they can justify taking private property as serving an important law enforcement purpose, but there are many accounts of departments that are almost entirely self-funded by the proceeds," he said.

"If Byrne is cut back or zeroed out, and the police agency is fortunate enough to have an interstate highway to patrol, they are in a position to target vehicles and go fishing for dollars," he noted.

"These revenue streams, whether it's Byrne grants or seized cash, create dependency in the departments that rely on them," said Stamper, "and that makes it less and less likely that the police in your community are going to be critical and analytical in questioning their ways of doing business. Does prohibition work, does it produce positive results? The answer is no and no. We have a situation where we are actually doing harm in the name of law enforcement, and it's deep harm, this notion that prohibition is workable. Drug law enforcement is funded at obscene levels, and this is money that could be used for things that do work, like drug abuse prevention and treatment," the ex-chief continued. "It's safe to say that American law enforcement has developed an addiction to the monies it gets from drug prohibition."

Drug Cops Shouldn’t be Paid With Confiscated Drug Money, But They Are

A disturbing report from NPR illustrates that many police departments have become dependent on confiscated drug proceeds in order to fund their anti-drug operations:

Every year, about $12 billion in drug profits returns to Mexico from the world's largest narcotics market — the United States. As a tactic in the war on drugs, law enforcement pursues that drug money and is then allowed to keep a portion as an incentive to fight crime.


Federal and state rules governing asset forfeiture explicitly discourage law enforcement agencies from supplementing their budgets with seized drug money or allowing the prospect of those funds to influence law enforcement decisions.

There is a law enforcement culture — particularly in the South — in which police agencies have grown, in the words of one state senator from South Texas, "addicted to drug money."

Just pause for a second and think about the implications of a drug war that funds itself with dirty money. It is just laughable to think that such conditions could exist without inviting routine corruption, from our disgraceful forfeiture laws to the habitual thefts and misconduct that occur with such frequency that we're able to publish a weekly column dedicated to them.

It is truly symbolic of the drug war's inherent hopelessness that illicit drug proceeds are needed in order to subsidize narcotics operations. If we ever actually succeeded at shrinking the drug market, we'd be defunding law-enforcement! Progress is rather obviously impossible under such circumstances.

Drug enforcement is a job like any other, and police have mouths to feed, bills to pay, maybe a little alimony here or there. So they take their paycheck and sign out; I don’t blame anyone for that in and of itself. But consider that law-enforcement operations artificially inflate the value of drugs, only to then hunt down those same proceeds, collect, and redistribute them within the police department. Morally, is that any better than the dealer who pushes dope to put food on the table?

Really, a structure such as this is not designed to achieve forward momentum towards reducing drug abuse. It's the law-enforcement equivalent of subsistence farming and it ought to warrant income substitution programs not unlike those we push on the peasants of Colombia and Afghanistan. All of this lends substantial credence to the popular conception that "the drug war was meant to be waged, not won."

Each day that the drug war rages on, its finely tuned mechanisms become more effective at sustaining itself and less effective at addressing the issues of drug abuse and public safety that supposedly justify these policies in the first place.

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School