Assets for Prevention, Our only way into the crime debate?
From Thu Feb 23 17:54:04 1995
Date: Wed, 22 Feb 1995 17:31:39 -0800
From: Applied Research Center 
Subject: Rapsheet 2

RAssets for Prevention,S Our only way into the crime debate?
Francis Calpotura

There are few points of intervention for community groups
interested in putting forth a progressive spin in the crime
debate. Between the proverbial Rrock and a hard place,S we resist
programs to jail our kids and place them on gang lists, as well as
block watch opportunities to Rdrop a dimeS on our neighbors.

In developing the RHome Run Strategy,S participants supported
strongly the reallocation of resources from programs for
punishment to programs for prevention. Unfortunately, we are
bucking the ^scal tide. Where is the money to come from? Enter
asset forfeiture.

The political hype associated with the so-called Rwar on drugsS
has resulted in laws allowing police and other law enforcement
peronnel to con^scate the money and property of people accused of
drug-related activities. An estimated $7 billion has been seized
through State and Federal forfeitures since Congress expanded the
Asset Forfeitures laws as part of the 1984 Crime Bill.

The legislative intent of asset forfeiture was to use the
con^scated resources to support law enforcement activities. After
assets are initially seized, they are deposited in either a State
or Federal fund, depending on who prosecutes the case. Law
enforcement agencies involved in the case apply for a percentage
of the seized assets from the State and Federal funds. Each law
enforcement agency is required to deposit their forfeiture moneys
into a separate account. Federal and most state regulations make
it clear that forfeiture moneys cannot supplement the police
budget, offset any de^cits, be placed in the departmentUs general
fund, or pay for regular salaries.

There are two basic problems with the program. First, the civil
rights of people whose assets are seized are often violated.
Assets can be seized at the time of arrest and, guilty-or-not, it
is very dif^cult for those accused of crimes to get them back.
Because there is an economic incentive for police departments to
seize assets, a few have been caught making arrests and seizing
assets where there is absolutely no evidence of wrong doing.
Although bad publicity and litigation spearheaded by the ACLU has
resulted in Supreme Court decisions upholding individual due
process rights for people whose assets have been seized, there is
still room for overzealous law enforcement agencies to misuse
their power.

A second set of problems associated with asset forfeiture relates
to how the assets are liquidated and spent. The Rcash cowS of
asset forfeitures has provided police departments the wherewithal
to buy hardware and new technology and to augment salaries for
personnel. The moneys have also been used to purchase new gym
equipment in one police department, redecorate a police chiefUs
of^ce in a second case, purchase a third departmentUs RLazy-BoyS
furniture, and fund an out-of-court settlement of a rape case
involving a police of^cer in a fourth department. An article in
the law enforcement magazine Police Chief (January 1994) admitted
that the general public perceived that Rthe civil forfeiture laws
give law enforcement too much power, that innocent peopleUs
property is often taken without reason or compensation and that
the laws are being enforced by law enforcement personnel intent on
the glittering pot of shared drug-traf^cking loot at the end of
the rainbow.S

This summer, all ^ve organizations in the CSPA campaign examined
the possibility of utilizing asset forfeiture funds as a potential
funding source for the campaignUs demand for a reallocation of
criminal justice moneys for Rprevention versus punishment.S In
response to the efforts of National PeopleUs Action, the Federal
Executive Of^ce of Asset Forfeiture has created new regulations
enabling local law enforcement agencies that receive a share of
Federal forfeiture funds to allocate up to 15% of the cash seized
and an unlimited amount of property (houses, cars, cellular
phones, etc.) to Rsupport drug abuse treatment, drug and crime
prevention, education, housing, and job skills programs, or other
community-based programsS provided by non-pro^t community

While it is not a panacea, the regulation gives community
organizations an important tool in focusing attention on a
different type of Rcrime preventionS and in reexamining the budget
of local police departments.

Because of the programUs structure, asset forfeiture moneys are
supposed to be deposited in separate accounts . Though the
allocation of forfeiture funds is often decided by local district
attorneys and police chiefs, elected municipal bodies are
ultimately responsible for how the money gets spent. The new
regulation lends credibility to a demand for an RaccountingS of
moneys spent, as well as a democratization of the process for
allocating forfeiture funds. There are opportunities for promising
alliances with educational, recreational, job training and other
service programs, since they stand to be the recipients of the
funds. In addition, the struggle around allocation of forfeiture
resources gives community groups the opportunity to monitor police
compliance with the standards for seizing the assets set forth in
the National Code for Professional Conduct inaugurated in March of
this year.

Struggles over allocation of asset forfeiture funds will also be
good practice for future ^ghts over the new six-year crime bill
allocation of $7.6 billion to be used for Rrecreation and
employment, ^ghting violence against women, and anti-gang and
comprehensive programs to steer youth away from crime.S The crime
bill emphasizes punitive solutions to crime, including the Rthree
strikesS provision, prosecuting 13 and 14 year-olds as adults for
some violent crimes, the creation of Rboot campsS for young
offenders, and the increase from two to sixty in the number of
federal crimes punishable by death. Therefore, the arena of
prevention may be the only place where community organizations can
offer solutions to crime that donUt lock up our youth.

From Issue #5 of RapSheet, August 1994 Trends in Police Work, Law
Enforcement Reform, & Community Control

Prepared by the Applied Research Center for the Campaign for
Community Safety & Police Accountability