Stepping back into the “real world” for a moment, CNN carries a story about a tiny town that may be overstepping their authority when it comes to traffic stops.

The difference between “legal” and “right” comes up in the story as well:

“The police and local district attorney there say they’re operating within the law, and it appears as if they are,” said Howard Witt, the Tribune reporter who wrote the story. “Texas has an asset forfeiture law similar to many other states, and it basically allows police to seize assets [that] are used, or suspected in being used, in commission of a crime.”

The law as it currently exists does not mandate that a person be convicted of a crime or even charged with one before the police can seize the assets, Witt said. A bill was introduced Tuesday in the state Legislature to close that loophole, he said, because of the alleged goings-on in Tenaha.

In 1997 Louisiana lawmakers reformed that state’s asset forfeiture law after a report on NBC’s “Dateline” alleged that law enforcement officers in Calcasieu and Jefferson Davis parishes were stopping motorists without cause, particularly out-of-state drivers and minorities, along Interstate 10 and seizing their money and property from them, according to an article on the National Drug Strategy Network’s Web site.

The unfortunate thing about this kind of story is that if it turns out to be true, or even if it turns out to be false, it is going to raise even more the tendency of people to distrust the cops.

The other part of unfortunate reality is that, when stopped out-of-state or far from home, civilians are at an even greater disadvantage to the cops than normal. If you’re far from home, you don’t likely have such easy access to your bank. You don’t know how to reach any local lawyers, or which are the best for your needs. You’re not as likely to have family/friends nearby to come help you out. The local judge likely knows the cop quite well, danced at his wedding, his kids date the cop’s kids, etc… and knows nothing about you at all, save for the fact that His Buddy The Cop decided you had done something heinous enough to warrant (at least) a traffic stop and a ticket. The phrase “innocent until proven guilty” means little when the judge is the best friend – or even “a better friend than the random stranger who got stopped” – and is ruling on your case.

Thus there’s an extra onus on small-town cops, at least if they are considering the factor of making other traffic stops easier/safer across the country, to avoid doing things like this or even encouraging the appearance of same. Unfortunately, there’s also the opposite onus – to raise as much ticket revenue as possible. Thanks to the passing of bungled laws that allow ticket revenue to be metered, budgeted, and used for a given year, there’s every incentive for cops to try to raise as much as possible. An extra 5-10 motorists pulled over each month, even if they’re innocent, may be the difference between a new squad car or other new gear, or may even be funneled into other city services. One of the worst things I ever heard from Colosse’s “civil servants” was when the Colosse mayor excoriated the Colosse Police Department because “underperforming traffic ticket revenue” had caused Colosse to experience a budgetary shortfall. They swear up and down that quotas don’t exist, and maybe for individual cops there isn’t… but rest assured, for Colosse just as sure as for Pudunkistan, the police department as a whole now carries a “quota” of ticket revenue to avoid a city budgetary shortfall.

And the people, both those living in the city and those merely passing through, are 100% aware of this fact and less likely to trust the Badged Highwaymen because of it.

Category: Courthouse

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2 Responses to Badged Highwaymen, Again

  1. Peter says:

    One thing that has not been financially successful is the policy in some counties or cities of seizing the cars of DWI offenders. It’s something that should make money, as the cars can be sold and the proceeds used for public purposes, but reality is different. Many of the seized cars are old bombs that are worth next to nothing, or if newer have large outstanding loan balances that have to be paid out of the sales proceeds. Meanwhile, the police have to keep the vehicles in secure storage until the criminal cases are disposed of, which can take an extra long time because many people will go to trial rather than plead guilty if forfeiture of their cars is at stake.

  2. Will says:

    Meanwhile, the police have to keep the vehicles in secure storage until the criminal cases are disposed of, which can take an extra long time because many people will go to trial rather than plead guilty if forfeiture of their cars is at stake.

    In some places, you don’t actually have to be convicted to lose your car. That’s one of the frequent criticisms of the confiscation laws.

    The Shield had a good subplot on it that lasted a year or so. The portrayal of it was far from critical, but even there they left that part of the thing dangling. The sense was that if they had to hold on to the seizures and return them after no conviction occurs, they wouldn’t be able to pay for the program anymore.

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