Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Getting the Incentives Wrong

The on-point Radley Balko has an excellent piece at Reason about the obscene practice of civil asset forfeiture (be sure to read the February article he links there as well.)  This is another perfect example of a law crafted without the slightest nod towards the actual incentives it creates.

In essence, the government can seize property (a car, money, even a house) if they can show there is probable cause to believe it connected to a crime.  Ostensibly, this is to deny criminals the use of their criminal spoils.  Since the government has it, hey, why not let those hard-working cops put it to good use, right?  So now, you've told cops they can enrich their station/department at will as long as they can show that something might have had a connection to a crime - even after the "criminal" is acquitted, or in the case highlighted by Balko, if no charges are ever filed in the first place!

This made a big splash in the 90's, and most states (but not Arizona,) enacted laws stipulating that CAF proceeds go to the general school fund, but as Balko's story shows, those laws are easily and routinely evaded through a number of loopholes.  Of course, here in Arizona they don't have to evade anything.  They can just take.  According to a Goldwater Institute study, from 2000-2004 $11 million dollars of CAF money went straight to law enforcement officials as direct compensation.  Which is, like, totally different from a kickback, because, um, kickbacks are illegal.  Or something.

Sweet place we live in, huh?

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