Even the staunchest advocate for preserving South Carolina’s civil asset forfeiture powers admits that cops have an incentive to seize people’s property for their own department’s benefit.
Jarrod Bruder, the executive director of the South Carolina Sheriff’s Association who frequently lobbies for law enforcement interests at the Statehouse, said that without the incentive of profit from civil forfeiture, officers probably wouldn’t pursue drug dealers and their cash as hard as they do now.
If police don’t get to keep the money from forfeiture, “what is the incentive to go out and make a special effort?” Bruder said. “What is the incentive for interdiction?”
Bruder’s comments came after being presented the research from our TAKEN investigation, which found that law enforcement agencies seized more than $17 million using state laws that allow police to seize money and property without requiring a criminal conviction or even an arrest. Most of the money and property that officers seize ends up enriching the police departments’ bank accounts.
The investigation found that in a fifth of forfeiture cases in South Carolina, no one is convicted of a crime. In 19 percent of cases, there is no criminal arrest. Law enforcement seizes property from black people 71 percent of the time, with the overwhelming majority of cases involving younger black men.
Advocates for reform say no one wants to take away law enforcement’s ability to pursue drug dealers and their profits but that forfeiture should be tied to a criminal case with proof the cash or property was profits from criminal enterprise, not just the cash someone was carrying when stopped or arrested.
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