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Cory Doctorow:

Civil asset forfeiture is a perfectly foreseeable outcome of the overbroad War on Drugs: it allows the cops to seize your belongings and charge them – not you! – with being the proceeds of a crime. Then it’s up to you to figure out how to prove that your cash, car, house, or other belongings are innocent, otherwise the cops get to keep your stuff and use it to fund their operations.

This is especially useful when it comes to amassing budgets to buy things that the cops don’t want to ask for in public: that’s why Chicago cops stole millions from mostly poor Chicagoans and blew it on surveillance gear (they did this in LA, too). It’s hard to see how there’d be a surveillance gear industry without this legalized theft. The NYPD steals so much through forfeiture that it says just adding it up would break their computers (it’s even worse in the Bronx).

It’s an irresistible temptation. City attorneys invite the town cops to seminars on maximizing the haul of desirable goods, advising the police to keep a wishlist of cars and other material they’d like to steal, so they can be on the lookout for citizens in possession of same to seize from. It got so bad that the CBC issued advice for Canadians to help them avoid being robbed by American cops while on vacation.

The city and state authorities have used stolen funds to lobby against reforms in the forfeiture rules, but their behavior was so egregious that reform was inevitable. States including Montana, New Mexico, California and Nebraska reformed their forfeiture rules, then in 2015 Congress slashed the DoJ’s budget, forcing the feds to end their complicity in forfeiture cases.

But Trump’s official policy of putting a fox in every henhouse is about to hit forfeiture reform. He told a group of sheriffs that he will “look into” limits on forfeiture, because there is “no reason” for any such limits. He went on to offer to “destroy the career” of a Texas state senator who believed in limits on asset forfeiture.

Paul Ciano

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