Friday, November 2, 2012

Snitch team in Florida generates millions in forfeitures and DOJ investigation

The Bal Habour police department is under federal investigation for its use of a team of informants to collect millions of dollars in forfeitures, often without making any arrests. The Miami Herald ran this story, Feds probe Bal Harbour Police Department over seized millions, describing how this small police department uses "a team of snitches and undercover cops" to "seize a fortune in cash every year" from all over the country. "Now, the special unit is under federal investigation for its handling of millions in seized dollars, including hundreds of thousands paid to snitches, questionable expenses and missing financial records." Over four years, Bal Harbour police spent thousands of forfeiture dollars on equipment, cars, boats, first class plane tickets, and a banquet. The department paid its informants $624,558.

Such programs are made possible by federal forfeiture law, under which police departments can keep a percentage of seized assets. Because the legal standards for forfeiture are lower than for a criminal case, police can seize money and assets without having to prove anyone guilty. For a great overview of forfeiture law and its reliance on informants, see Radley Balko's article in Reason Magazine, The Forfeiture Racket. See also this report from the Institute for Justice: Policing for Profit.