In January, Republican state senators in Alabama introduced legislation to reform civil forfeiture. The bill makes the radical suggestion that property rights cannot be taken away without due process. (Under current practice, property can be seized without charge, let alone conviction, and the defendant needs to prove innocence at great cost to get it back.) It also aims to curb abuses by directing what does get seized to the state’s General Fund, rather than to the police departments themselves, thereby ending a practice that has been called ‘Policing for Profit’.
The Alabama Sheriffs Association and Alabama District Attorney’s Association are not pleased. Taking to AL.com, the directors of both organizations penned an op-ed in defense of civil forfeiture. They open with blatant dishonesty, claiming that the practice only targets criminals, when in at least a quarter of Alabama forfeiture cases, charges are never filed, let alone convictions made.
The op-ed is actually refreshing in that the authors don’t hide the fact that police departments pursue civil forfeiture for personal gain. Speaking of the reformers’ plan to prevent police departments from keeping the money and assets they seize, they write:
sending the proceeds of forfeiture to the state’s General Fund would result in fewer busts of drug and stolen property rings. What incentive would local police and sheriffs have to invest manpower, resources and time in these operations if they don’t receive proceeds to cover their costs?
Isn’t it the job of law enforcement to enforce the law? Isn’t that why they are paid? Given that many violent crimes happen in the absence of property on the scene to seize, does this mean that Alabama law enforcement have no incentive to spend resources fighting them?