The militarization of local police in the United States is not being fueled just by the federal government providing military equipment, including machine guns, grenade launchers, and armored vehicles, to local police departments. The police are also funding the rise of SWAT with billions of dollars obtained through asset seizures that amount to highway robbery under the guise of law enforcement.
In an October 11 Washington Post article, Robert O’Harrow Jr. and Steven Rich offer some revealing details concerning how state and local police have raised billions of dollars since 2008 via asset seizures associated with the US Department of Justice Equitable Sharing Program that allows state and local police departments to take 80 percent of the proceeds of seizures conducted in cooperation with US government agencies. In addition, much more police revenue has been gained through asset seizures outside the program and without direct US government involvement.
What do the state and local police do with the money obtained through asset forfeitures? As the Post article explains, much of it is pumped into expanding surveillance and police militarization:
The police purchases comprise a rich mix of the practical and the high-tech, including an array of gear that has helped some departments militarize their operations: Humvees, automatic weapons, gas grenades, night-vision scopes and sniper gear. Many departments acquired electronic surveillance equipment, including automated license-plate readers and systems that track cellphones.
Police departments even use the Equitable Sharing money to pay incidental costs related to military weapons and equipment obtained from the US government’s 1033 program:
Ten agencies have used the asset forfeiture funds to pay their fees for the Defense Department’s excess property initiative, better known as the 1033 program, which enables local and state police to buy surplus military-grade equipment at cut rates. The equipment includes automatic weapons, night-vision gear and clothing.
Police in Sahuarita, Ariz., paid $4,300 to outfit a Humvee obtained through the 1033 program. The New Bedford, Mass., Police Department in 2012 paid $2,119 for shipping costs for M-16s from the military.
In addition to the harmful uses to which the Equitable Sharing money is employed, O’Harrow and Rich point out the absolute injustice of the asset seizures that feed money into the US government program:
Of the nearly $2.5 billion in spending reported in the forms, 81 percent came from cash and property seizures in which no indictment was filed, according to an analysis by The Post. Owners must prove that their money or property was acquired legally in order to get it back.
You read that right. The way the asset seizures work is the police just take your money or other property even without the slightest basis for proving you committed a crime, much less that there is any relationship between an alleged illegal activity and the property taken. Then, turning on its head the fundamental American legal principle of “innocent until proven guilty,” victims of asset seizure must prove they had acquired without ties to illegal activity whatever was taken before they can have it back.
Continue reading at the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity.