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Imagine you’ve just bought a house when heavily armed police officers show up at your door, announce that you have ten minutes to gather some possessions and leave, and then sell your house and keep the money.
Under civil asset forfeiture laws, police can take people’s money and property without making an arrest. They just have to suspect the assets are tied in some way to illicit activity. Since much of the money police seize ends up paying their own salaries and bankrolling their departments, they have a strong incentive to abuse these laws.
Some states are working to stop this type of abuse. But even when state laws are strict, police often take people’s money and property under federal law and keep on pocketing forfeiture money. Because of a loophole called “equitable sharing,” state cops can seize property under federal law and keep up to 80% of the proceeds.
This loophole isn’t right. When states decide to stop policing for profit, state cops should have to obey their laws.