Michigan Police Endorse Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform

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Casey Harper Contributor
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The Michigan Association of Police Organizations has endorsed a series of civil asset forfeiture reform bills that have been met with hostility in other states, a good sign the bills have a chance of becoming law and reforming the highly criticized practiced.

A package of eight bills were passed by the Michigan House earlier this year to reform civil asset forfeiture, the process by which police can seize someone’s property and keep it even if they don’t convict or charge you with a crime. Then, that person must go through the difficult, and often unsuccessful process to get their property–whether it’s a vehicle, cash or a home–back from the police.

“While we caution lawmakers against making policy on any issue because of a few anecdotes that represent “outlier” behavior, this package of bills is a reasonable, measured approach to improving transparency in forfeiture activities and diminishes the “policing for profit” perception that has attached to this issue,” MAPO wrote in a letter announcing the endorsement.

A key part of the reform effort is missing from this legislative effort, and that may be why police are supporting it. The legislation does not change the law to require a conviction before property can be forfeited.

Also, and most importantly, police are still allowed to use the proceeds from forfeited property to pad their own budgets. Reforms in other states, like New Mexico, have taken that money and put it in the state’s general fund.

This failure significantly weakens the legislation, but the other provisions are what Fix Forfeiture Executive Director Holly Harris says is a “first step” on the road to reform.

This first step would raise the burden of proof for police to forfeit property, protect lesser offenders like those holding small amounts of marijuana, and would start a system where police must track and report their forfeitures.

Harris told The Daily Caller News Foundation that the reporting of data will expose how widespread the problem is, which will set up another round of tougher reforms.

“This well respected law enforcement organization understands that in a democracy, there is always a need to improve aspects of our criminal justice system and is supportive of this approach to improve transparency,” Harris said in a statement. “We are encouraged by their public support and are grateful for their service to the people of Michigan.”

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