Policing For Profit Rampant in California, Study Finds

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A scathing new study from the Drug Policy Alliance finds that many California police departments are violating federal and state guidelines to essentially police for profit. Police departments are routinely balancing their budgets on the backs of their most vulnerable citizens — using federal asset forfeiture laws to take cash and cars without convicting citizens of a crime.

In “Above the Law: An Investigation of Civil Asset Forfeiture in California” (.pdf), researchers found a broad misuse of forfeiture. While forfeiture was designed to punish drug kingpins by seizing their cash, cars and property, the average value of a state seizure was $5,145 and cops have been focusing on seizing loose cash.


“The report identifies numerous breaches of federal forfeiture rules, including budgeting future forfeiture revenue, failure to submit forfeiture expenses to third party auditors, unaccounted-for expenditures in documents submitted to the Justice Department, and failure to retain records related to asset seizures.”

“Circumventing state law can impose an insurmountable financial burden on low-income and immigrant families and others lacking sufficient resources to defend themselves against forfeiture actions.”

California’s out-of-control forfeitures are most acute in Los Angeles County, where small cities like La Verne have forfeiture revenues that are eight times larger than large cities like Oakland.

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“Pomona’s forfeiture revenues of $14,302,274 exceed the combined forfeiture revenues of Oakland ($2,281,597), Fresno ($3,958,725), Long Beach ($4,410,910) and Bakersfield ($571,796), whose total populations are more than 11 times greater than Pomona’s.”

Response times and patrols have dropped while forfeiture teams were staffed up, jeopardizing public safety, the report found.

California legislators have tried to restrict police takings, but police just switched to using federal forfeiture laws combined with post-9/11 joint task forces.

These Los Angeles County law enforcement agencies have for years led the opposition to drug law reforms like medical marijuana regulations. The report makes the case that they oppose reforms because they don’t want to lose a huge chunk of their budgets. 

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