The Washington, D.C. City Council voted unanimously to advance legislation making significant reforms to the use of civil asset forfeiture by the city’s police force. A second and final vote will take place on December 2.
Throughout the United States, the rules of civil asset forfeiture allow police officers to seize personal property such as cash, cars and even houses without charging the owners of that property with any crime. Police are also allowed to keep the proceeds in most jurisdictions around the country and a large part of the proceeds when they work through the federal “equitable sharing” program.
The legislation in Washington, D.C., will end the requirement that citizens have to post cash bonds to challenge such seizures, provides greater transparency about what is taken by police and how citizens can challenge those takings, would put all proceeds into the city’s general fund and not allow police to keep the funds they seize, and it will also end the city’s involvement in the federal program that shares the proceeds from civil asset forfeiture with local police departments.
Still, many rightly complain that the bill doesn’t go nearly far enough. For instance, it would allow asset seizures until 2018 through the federal “equitable sharing” program, justified because $670,000 per year has already been budgeted for the police operations from those proceeds.
Liberty Initiative Fund has launched a “Stop Stealing” campaign, working with local and state-level activists to put reform measures on the ballot, which will bring an end to the abuse of civil asset forfeiture.
Washington Post: DC Council votes to overhaul asset forfeiture