From time to time, politicians will argue that government is inefficient and to improve things, it needs to be run like a business. For the most part this is marketing puffery, as the role of government and business are very different and adopting practice and procedures from one often does not work very well.
Take the criminal justice system. It functions to protect society and to ensure that justice is done. We assume that wrongdoers will be identified, arrested, prosecuted and punished by the system. But another one of our fundamental assumptions is that justice will be done, and that “due process of law” will apply to protect those who are not guilty.
As we discussed in our last few posts, the issue of civil forfeiture has become a problem, as law enforcement in Iowa and across the nation has escalated its use, and some would allege, abuse.
A recent study has found that this practice has grown as law enforcement has used it as a means of funding its operational needs. During a time of constrained public funding for the government, civil forfeiture has provided an easy means for law enforcement to create their own funding source.
It also undermines an essential role of the criminal justice system, because it provides a profit motive for policing. And when law enforcement begins to see citizens as a source of revenue, their interest in justice is diminished.
In states like Iowa, where law enforcement can retain 100 percent of the funds they seize, there is an inherent conflict of interest. If a state is interested in using forfeiture as a means of fighting crime, the agency seizing the funds should not be permitted to retain any of the cash, and it should be placed in the state’s general fund.
This removes the “profit motive” and ends the conflict of interests that taints many of the forfeitures.
Source: washingtonpost.com, “New report: In tough times, police start seizing a lot more stuff from people,” Christopher Ingraham, November 10, 2015