Uncle Sam Is Helping Missouri Cops Steal From the State’s Public Education Fund

When it comes to the practice of civil asset forfeiture, the state of Missouri has the right idea. State law mandates that 100 percent of proceeds from cash and property forfeitures that result in convictions be used to fund the state’s public schools. That’s a sound idea, but there’s one problem: It isn’t happening. 

In 2016, local law enforcement only sent $100,000 to public schools when it seized $6.3 million worth of property. And of that total, 44 percent went to the feds. What accounts for this discrepancy? 

Simple: Missouri law enforcement has conspired with the Department of Justice, in defiance of state law, to ensure that the cash goes into their coffers rather than to the school children of Missouri.   

In 2001, Missouri’s Civil Asset Forfeiture Act (CAFA) was amended in an effort to impede state and local law enforcement from policing for profit, a common practice in many states across the county whereby police are incentivized to seize property and pocket its cash value. CAFA aimed to ensure that upon a defendant’s conviction their seized property be handed off to the local county prosecutor who would “deposit the proceeds into the public education fund as required by the Missouri Constitution,” thereby curtailing law enforcement’s incentive to arbitrarily and pervasively seize, and then keep or cash in, property allegedly involved in a crime.  

Seventeen years later, this constitutional promise has not been realized.  

Missouri is one of a handful of states with a relatively strict civil asset forfeiture law. The law itself requires a criminal conviction or guilty plea be entered before the state government takes ownership of the seized property. Furthermore, the entirety of the state’s forfeiture revenue then must be distributed to its public schools. 

Instead, state and local law enforcement have eagerly taken advantage of a federal program known as equitable sharing. Rather than bringing cases locally, and upon conviction sending forfeiture proceeds to public school, this program allows local law enforcement and prosecutors to litigate forfeiture claims in partnership with the federal government. The federal government is then rewarded 20 percent of the forfeiture proceeds while the remaining 80 percent is pocketed by state and local law enforcement. No conviction is necessary before the property is forfeited, and no funds are sent to public schools. 

This program effectively allows the federal government to collude with state law enforcement to evade the clear intention of Missouri’s civil asset forfeiture law. An option much more enticing than transferring all forfeiture funds to public schools. 

Of the $19 million in cash and property value that Missouri law enforcement has seized since 2015, only “$340,000 of that made its way to schools.” The irony of the matter is that civil asset forfeiture laws disproportionately impact hard-working, low-income people of color — many of whom might have actually benefitted from the funds being transferred to their schools. 

During former President Obama’s administration, United States Attorney General Eric Holder made a slight effort to limit state and local use of equitable sharing because the system was too often used in questionable circumstances. This effort “barred local and state police from using federal law to seize cash and other property without warrants or criminal charges, unless federal authorities were directly involved in the case.” Unsurprisingly, this reform was reversed by our current administration, placing the incentive to skirt strict state laws back on the table. 

In a second attempt to limit Missouri’s reliance on equitable sharing, Missouri House Rep. Shamed Dogan introduced a new bill on February 20 that seeks to limit the cases that can be brought before a federal court to those where the forfeiture amounts are over $50,000. Although a step in the right direction, there is more to be done. Missouri must remove the incentive from police and prosecutors to go around state law and engage in profit-seeking forfeiture through the federal system. 

Missouri’s law, requiring a conviction before goods are seized and a distribution of forfeiture proceeds to schools and not law enforcement must be enforced. There should not be a way for state agents to circumvent their own laws and disenfranchise the people the law aims to protect. New Mexico and California are examples of states that have made efforts to eliminate or restrict the use of equitable sharing. These next steps, in conjunction with the enforcement of Missouri’s law, are what all state legislatures should seriously consider. 

Without this level of reform, police are being given the permission to continue the perverse practice of policing for profit. This is not crime-stopping law enforcement. It’s corruption, plain and simple. 

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Anonymous

I dont think it's right that they seize anything other then money especially if the person convicted had a job other then criminal behavior. A lot of drug dealers have real jobs and just sell drugs for a little extra cash. Fuckin cops in this State are no better then those the busy.

Anonymous

I've been saying it for years! The legal system is more about making money than seeking justice.

Anonymous

No wonder our teachers have to use their own pocket money for school supplies. My daughter is a teacher. Something has to be done.

DanViets@gmail.com

Well said, except it's not just the law; the MO Constitution commands that all forfeiture proceeds go to education. I testified for Shamaed's bill. Let us continue to beat this drum!!!

Dr. Timothy Leary

Face it, the only time anyone in America pays attention a law is when it's to their advantage.

Anonymous

Most cops and most DOJ officials are good people working in a highly dysfunctional breaucracy but here is the real tyranny of this program:

The DOJ is supposed to be independent with integrity to "check & balance" state and local officials that violate the constitutional rights of their residents and prevent "2nd Class status" of Americans (ex: Jim Crow era). The DOJ is also supposed to police federal officials and contractors that violate constitutionall rights as well (ex: Cointelpro).

In recent history, the DOJ and other agencies have also led and funded state "Fusion Centers" - essentially blacklisting centers that violate federal "color of law" statutes (including Title 18 Criminal statutes) - instead of checking & balancing state and local governments. The DOJ is financially driving constitutional violations. Since everbody is cashing in, nobody is protecting constitutional rights - as they are sworn to do under their Oath of Office.

We need fundamental reform of the DOJ to return it to it's integrity during the Jim Crow era. This is not to disparage it's great employees, but directed at it's poor leadership over several administrations. We need a DOJ with integrity that will place it's supreme loyalty oath, to protect constitutional rights, over profits.

Dr. Timothy Leary

Integrity ? What's that ?

Anonymous

"Most cops and most DOJ officials are good people..."
Citation needed.

Leo Bierling

Law enforcement should uphold the law
The schools need the money and our children deserve good teachers books and structures

Anonymous

The ACLU should also start a petition drive to overturn the federal "Material Witness Statute" and other statutes or executive orders that violate the 13th Amendment. This is still unfinished business, a federal appeals court severely reprimanded former AG John Ashcroft for his fraudulent and criminal abuse of this statute, but it still remains on the books. The U.S. Department of Justice can literally enslave any American for any reason - without their consent or their knowledge - this law needs to be abolished completely. Only the ACLU has the will to protect us. The DOJ no longer protects our guaranteed constitutional rights, they should no longer have that power.

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