John Oliver enlisted the help of Jeff Goldblum to hilariously explain one of the least-funny law enforcement practices you’ve never heard of in Sunday night’s episode of “Last Week Tonight.”
The segment explains a disturbing and escalating trend in law enforcement known as “civil forfeiture” — a process by which police can seize items including cash, cars and even houses from civilians who haven’t been charged with a crime. Police departments are frequently allowed to keep the items and often-large quantities of cash to purchase things for the department at their discretion and leisure.
During a 2012 citizen police review board hearing, Missouri Police Chief Ken Burton said police routinely decide to seize funds “based on a need” and that there were “not really” any limitations “on the forfeiture stuff.”
“We usually base it on something that would be nice to have,” the chief explained in the clip pulled by Oliver. “It’s kinda like pennies from heaven, you know, it gets you a toy or something that you need.”
Past purchases of these “toys” have included a Zamboni (yes, the machine the resurfaces ice at a skating rink) by one Massachusetts police department and kegs of beer, margarita machines and bottles of Crown Royal by a Texas district attorney’s office.
Victims of “civil forfeiture” interviewed included one man carrying about $20,000 in cash to buy a car, another with over $2,000 in cash driving across the country, and the the seizure of a house belonging to the parents of a teenager arrested with $40 worth of illegal drugs.
“That is the sort of police behavior we laugh at other countries for,” Oliver said. “Along with their accents and silly hats.”
Those seeking to have their possessions returned must prove their property is “innocent” after an initial presumption of guilt.
Oliver then leaves it up to Goldblum to illustrate just how ridiculous that is by interrogating a pile of money.
“Rough night huh?” Goldblum says. “Well, it’s about to get a lot rougher. What is $2,500 in cash doing hanging out in somebody’s glove box huh? Answer me!”