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D.C. Police Are Planning Asset Seizures Years In Advance

Council member Tommy Wells, chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, said police should not have a financial incentive to make seizures.

Here in Philadelphia, we're confiscating more than any police force in the country and as far as I know, no one on our city council will touch this -- mostly because, in this age of austerity, they have no idea how to make up the money if they cut back. But with D.C. leading the way, maybe more cities and towns will follow:

D.C. police have made plans for millions of dollars in anticipated proceeds from future civil seizures of cash and property, even though federal guidelines say “agencies may not commit” to such spending in advance, documents show.

The city’s proposed budget and financial plan for fiscal 2015 includes about $2.7 million for the District police department’s “special purpose fund” through 2018. The fund covers payments for informants and rewards.

The financial details emerged Wednesday, when the D.C. Council’s judiciary committee unanimously voted to forward a bill that would overhaul asset forfeiture laws in the nation’s capital. The bill would raise the threshold of proof required for a forfeiture, bolster the rights of individuals whose property has been taken and require that proceeds from seizures under federal law go into the city general fund, rather than directly to the police department. The full council is set to vote on the bill Tuesday.

Council member Tommy Wells, chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, said police should not have a financial incentive to make seizures. He said the bill addresses problems that are common across the country.

“All across the nation, law enforcement agencies are directly benefiting from forfeiture,” said Wells (D-Ward 6), who is leading the effort to reform asset forfeiture in the District. “In those places, forfeiture proceeds go directly to the law enforcement entity, creating at best the appearance of a conflict of interest, and at worst, an unchecked incentive for slush funds.”

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