UPDATE: Both amendments failed miserably, with only 20 votes in favor of each. Arguments that police don’t abuse the forfeiture system, that the state would rob local governments of the money, won the day.
Efforts to keep a better eye on law enforcement agencies and their practices at the Legislature this year so far haven’t included any serious efforts at reducing their dependence on forfeitures and seizures.
Even though the Legislature is on the verge of passing a bill to prevent multi-jurisdictional agencies from going rogue like the Metro Gang Strike Force did last year, a bill on property forfeitures headed for a vote Thursday in the Minnesota House of Representatives does little to restrict law enforcement agencies’ ability to take, keep and profit off of property seized from law-abiding citizens.
One would require law enforcement agencies to give back forfeited property if there’s no criminal conviction. Another would require local agencies to contribute the money from the sale of seized property to a statewide law enforcement fund instead of keeping it local.
Both amendments are opposed by Rep. Joe Mullery, DFL-Minneapolis, the bill’s author and chair of the House Civil Justice Committee. Also opposing them are most of the state’s law enforcement lobby groups, such as the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association.
Interestingly, three board members on the MCPA were also serving on the Metro Gang Strike Force Advisory Board when that now-defunct agency went off the rails, yet they’re arguing that there are already enough audits and controls in place to prevent abuse.
In 2007, law enforcement agencies statewide made more than 5,000 seizures and gained almost $5 million in revenue from them, double the proceeds from just a decade ago.
Liebling argues that it’s a conflict of interest for police departments to make money off taking people’s property, and that they shouldn’t be able to “eat what they kill” when it comes to keeping the profits.
A similar forfeiture bill from Sen. Mee Moua, DFL-St. Paul, already passed the Minnesota Senate without the language to discourage forfeitures.
Ironically, if the amendments do pass, it will likely be due to help from Republicans in the House minority, according to the Rochester Post-Bulletin.