Money raised by Metro Detroit agencies increases 50% in five years
George Hunter and Doug Guthrie / The Detroit News
Local law enforcement agencies are raising millions of dollars by seizing private property suspected in crimes, but often without charges being filed -- and sometimes even when authorities admit no offense was committed.
The money raised by confiscating goods in Metro Detroit soared more than 50 percent to at least $20.62 million from 2003 to 2007, according to a Detroit News analysis of records from 58 law enforcement agencies. In some communities, amounts raised went from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands -- and, in one case, into the millions.
"It's like legalized stealing," said Jacque Sutton, a 21-year-old college student from Mount Clemens whose 1989 Mustang was seized by Detroit police raiding a party. Charges against him and more than 100 others were dropped, but he still paid more than $1,000 to get the car back.
"According to the law, I did nothing wrong -- but they're allowed to take my property anyway. It doesn't make sense."
While courts have maintained the government's right to take property involved in crimes, police seizures -- also known as forfeitures -- are a growing source of friction in Michigan, especially as law enforcement agencies struggle to balance budgets.
"Police departments right now are looking for ways to generate revenue, and forfeiture is a way to offset the costs of doing business," said Sgt. Dave Schreiner, who runs Canton Township's forfeiture unit, which raised $343,699 in 2008. "You'll find that departments are doing more forfeitures than they used to because they've got to -- they're running out of money and they've got to find it somewhere."
The increase in property seizures merely is a byproduct of diligent law enforcement, some law enforcement officials say.
"We're trying to fight crime," said Police Chief Mike Pachla of Roseville, where the money raised from forfeitures jumped more than tenfold, from $33,890 to $393,014.
"We would be just as aggressive even if there wasn't any money involved."
Roseville had among the most dramatic increases over the five-year period examined by The News. But several other agencies also more than doubled their takes, including Novi, Trenton, Farmington Hills, Southfield, the Michigan State Police, Shelby Township, Livonia, Warren and Romulus.
The increase in money coming in leads to a higher percentage of the police budget being covered by seizures. In Roseville, the share of the police budget raised from forfeitures went from 0.3 percent to 4.2 percent. In Romulus, it jumped from 4.5 percent to 11.2 percent from 2003-2007, the most recent years for which comparable records were available. Some agencies said records weren't available.
Police and prosecutors profit because citizens must either pay to get their confiscated property back or lose their cars, homes and other seized assets to the arresting agencies, which auction them off.
The increased reliance on seized property to fund police operations amounts to a trade-off for law enforcement. The tough economy may be prompting law enforcement agencies to use an "entrepreneurial spirit," but that makes for bad public relations, said Tom Hendrickson, director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police.
From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20091112
So does the MSP Union fight for justice for these people that were robbed by them?