Saturday, December 06, 2003
Money and Law Enforcement
Police officers and prosecutors have a great deal of discretion with
respect to what sort of illegal behavior that they focus on and what
sort they give less scrutiny. What if targeting one sort of crime
provides a direct monetary benefit to the enforcement organization,
while other types of crime do not? Isn't it possible that police priorities
will be shifted towards enforcing the more lucrative crimes?
Civil asset forfeitures of various types tied to vice crimes can be big
money makers for law enforcement agencies -- even if the original
intent of the laws that establish such forfeitures is simply to deter
crime. And once the money making potential is recognized, law
enforcement priorities are likely to become affected.
The city of El Cajon, California, is targeting the vehicles of those
accused of certain vice crimes, according to this report from KFMB:
"Police will be able to seize the vehicle of a person arrested for one
of the two crimes [buying drugs or soliciting prostitution]. The owner
would have to pay a price equal to the value of the vehicle to get it
It is good to know that El Cajon will be joining the ranks of those
progressive communities that realize how antiquated is the notion
that people should be punished only after being found guilty in a
court of law.
At the extreme, incidentally, asset forfeiture can create self-financing
enforcement organizations that, freed from the need to receive
funding from legislatures, can also set an agenda with little in the
way of messy oversight from elected representatives.
Speaking of incentives to skew law enforcement, the mock bachelor
party held by police at a strip joint in Fremont, Nebraska has resulted
in mixed success: one of the two dancers charged with prostitution
beat the rap! Sounds like a follow-up operation is called for.
Vice Squad has discussed civil asset forfeiture in the past, including
here, and an earlier notice of the mock bachelor party can be found
here, though I identified the club as being in Omaha in the
earlier post. Fremont is some 35 miles from Omaha.