News stories about underfunded police departments are everywhere. That might explain why police have turned to literal highway robbery. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver shined a spotlight on a practice known as civil forfeiture, which allows police to seize property, including money found during a traffic stop, if they suspect it has or will be used for a crime. The driver need not be charge in a crime as the police make their case against directly against the property. They require only a preponderance of evidence.
“Under civil forfeiture law, your property is guilty until you prove it innocent,” explained Senior Attorney Scott Bullock at the Institute for Justice.
There are seemingly no limitations of what forfeitures can used to purchase discovered a citizens police review board in Columbia, Missouri.
“There’s some limitations on it… actually there’s not on the forfeiture stuff,” Police Chief Ken Burton said. “We just usually base it on something that would be nice to have. That we can’t get it the budget of instance. We try not to use it for things that we need to depend on because we need to ahead and have those purchased. It’s kind of like pennies from Heaven. It gets you a toy or something you need is the way we typically look at it.”
Around the country police department have used civil forfeitures for questionable purchases such as a Zamboni in Massachusetts and a margarita machine in Texas.
“They were literally using this money as their own personal slush fund,” the host joked.
Oliver suggested we either reform the law or make cop shows more realistic by including this practice. He demonstrated with a parody called Law & Order Civil Asset Forfeiture Unit.
The police arrest cellphones, sofas and even a house. An officer comments “stay on the streets too long and the city leaves a bad taste in your mouth” hence the need for a margarita machine.
Jeff Goldblum reprised his role as Detective Zach Nichols but he now speaks Spanish… sort of. He interrogates a pile of money but it refuses to talk so he seizes it.
“Looks like I’m the one that’s tenny mucho mucho deniro in su trucky-trailer,” says Goldblum, quoting dash cam footage of a cop speaking Spanglish to a Spanish truck drive.