The Perils of Policing for Profit

Feature, Policy — By on March 18, 2013 at 2:13 pm

NASHVILLE – The Beacon Center of Tennessee today published a new policy brief on the disturbing practice of “policing for profit.” The brief, titled The Perils of Policing for Profit, analyzes civil asset forfeiture laws, which have recently come under fire throughout the state.

Across Tennessee, law enforcement agencies are seizing money, cars, and other property based on the mere suspicion that the property is related to criminal activity. In some cases, tens of thousands of dollars worth of property or cash is seized, yet the property owner is never charged with a crime.

The brief reviews the perverse incentives created by this practice, which has led to the confiscation of more than $1.6 billion worth of property nationally. However, due to the lack of transparency related to Tennessee’s forfeiture laws, the amount seized within the state’s borders remains unknown.

“Policing for profit is an alarming practice that ensnares innocent victims, turning the American concept of justice on its head through a presumption of guilt,” said Trey Moore, Beacon Center’s director of policy and co-author of the brief. “Lawmakers should eliminate the perverse incentives for law enforcement to seize property absent proof that a crime has actually occurred.”

The brief calls for the outright ban of the practice by strengthening the legal standards used to permit law enforcement to seize property. Short of eliminating the practice altogether, the brief offers several intermediary solutions. They include placing civil forfeiture revenues in a neutral fund that cannot be used by law enforcement; transferring the burden of proof from the property owner to the government; reporting of seized property to promote more transparency; prohibiting ex parte hearings; allowing property owners to recover their losses and costs if the property is returned; and the termination of equitable sharing arrangements between local law enforcement officials and the federal government.

Several state lawmakers have filed bills related to this issue. Those measures are slated to be heard in legislative committees over the coming days.

The policy brief can be downloaded at: http://www.beacontn.org/wp-content/uploads/The-Perils-of-Policing-for-Profit.pdf

The Beacon Center of Tennessee’s mission is to change lives through public policy by advancing the principles of free markets, individual liberty, and limited government. Visit online at www.BeaconTN.org.

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