Time to End Policing for Profit in the Golden State – call Daly, Wagner & Chang today!


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Orange County's monument to (attempted) asset forfeiture, Tony Jalali's (saved) $1.5 million Anaheim office building.

Orange County’s monument to (attempted) asset forfeiture, Tony Jalali’s (saved) $1.5 million Anaheim office building.

In April of this year I watched the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the Need to Reform Asset Forfeiture. There was notable testimony presented that highlighted the many abuses of a program run amok. For those that are not aware of the history of policing for profit, it started during the height of the drug war hysteria of the 1980’s.  The well-intentioned program was intended to target the profit motive that has long fueled drug trafficking organizations (DTO).

Yet the architect of the program, John Yoder, had this to say about it in a Washington Post article last year:

“Over time, however, the tactic has turned into an evil itself, with the corruption it engendered among government and law enforcement coming to clearly outweigh any benefits.”

corrupt copAt the hearing it was the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) that represented the police voice and publicly stated that law enforcement agencies have come to rely on civil asset forfeiture as the federal government has reduced assistance to state and local law enforcement.  This statement is the crux of the matter, and is the issue that our legislators and our government officials must fix in order to prevent the conflict of interest that arises when police and prosecutors have a budgetary stake in forfeited property and are able to circumvent legislative oversight as required by California law.

It is the pressure to ensure public safety that gives rise to many of the issues and abuses stemming from the federal equitable asset forfeiture program.  One notable example includes a freeway interdiction in Los Angeles of a food truck owner traveling from northern to southern California to purchase property.  asset forfeiture 1Since his business was cash-based, he had $10,000 on him, which was seized by law enforcement after a drug interdiction stop and a narcotics dog alert on the money.  The innocent owner was neither charged nor convicted of a crime.  He attempted to obtain his property back under the purview of state law. In a court hearing the money was ordered returned, but the police had already had the case adopted under the federal equitable civil asset forfeiture program in a direct subversion of our laws.

The Drug Policy Alliance recently released a reported titled Above the Law: An Investigation into Civil Asset Forfeiture in California. This report documented many of the abuses that have occurred in California. Most notable is that the average seizure in 2013 was for $8,542 and is clearly not drug kingpin money. California law currently provides a level of due process for innocent owners not afforded under the federal equitable sharing guidelines. It includes generally requiring a conviction, protection of innocent family members and requires a minimum weight guideline of 28.5 grams of a controlled substance before a car, boat or other conveyance can be seized. Federal law provides no such protections, and is one of the reasons you have seen a dramatic increase in civil asset forfeiture by state and local law enforcement.

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The report revealed that since 2005 California law enforcement agencies increased federal forfeiture revenue by 314% while at the same time state forfeiture revenues stayed relatively the same. According to the United States Department of Justice Fiscal Year 2014 Asset Forfeiture Report To Congress California received approximately 77.4 million in federal asset forfeiture proceeds that went back directly to both state and local law enforcement agencies.  It is this vast sum of money that is driving the high level of law enforcement opposition of any reform efforts at the state capital. moorlach smilingThe usual suspects this year are from the District Attorney’s Association to the Chiefs and the Narcotics Officers Associations who are working to derail Senate Bill 443 authored by Senator Holly Mitchel (D-30) and co-sponsored by Assemblyman David Hadley (R-66) – and backed by our own Senator John Moorlach.

Since SB 443 was introduced it has gathered unlikely bi-partisan support in both the Senate and the Assembly. It passed from the Senate 38-1 and out of the Assembly Public Safety Committee with 1 abstention. SB 443 among many things will require a criminal conviction for any assets to be seized, enhance due process and prohibit adoption by the federal authorities on a state forfeiture matter. What this bill does not due despite the rhetoric put out by the law enforcement lobby is stop law enforcement professionals from seizing assets during an investigation. It only ensures that law enforcement support the Constitutional rights of not just Californians but all Americans.

Our citizens and our legislators alike recognize that our civil liberties have been subverted by a dubious drug war that has resulted in a system that benefits an overreaching government bent not on protecting its citizens but their own entrenched interest. I believe that legitimate public safety objectives can be satisfied through criminal forfeiture that is accountable to legislative oversight and good governance.

I support SB 443 and you should too as it ensures that law enforcement agencies respect and protect the property rights of California residents. SB 443 can increase funding to public safety agencies by preventing the diversion of funds from the state to the federal government if properly seized and prosecuted, while providing transparency and accountability to the taxpayers.

SB 443 will be heard in the Assembly Appropriations Committee on this Wednesday, August 19th. Here is the link to the committee members. Make your voice count and let the committee know that it’s time to end policing for profit and its many abuses. Law enforcement should be adequately funded, but not on the backs of innocent property owners.

Vern here.  Call your appropriations assemblymen NOW for Wednesday’s hearing;  the OC has three members on that committee:

  • Don Wagner (916) 319-2068
  • Tom Daly (916) 319-2069
  • and Ling Ling Chang  (916) 319-2055

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About Diane Goldstein

Diane Goldstein is a 21-year veteran of law enforcement who retired as the first female lieutenant for the Redondo Beach Police Department, (CA). She is a speaker and Executive Board Member for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) and a member of the Moms United To End The War on Drugs Steering Committee. She is a guest columnist for a variety of publications as well as appearing on television , and on radio as a political commentator.