By Jamie Leary
DENVER (CBS4) – It’s a bipartisan battle on Capitol Hill: asset forfeiture. Asset forfeiture allows law enforcement to seize assets that are directly related to criminal activity. Last June, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions unveiled a directive to undo the administrative changes put in place by the Obama Administration in 2015. That could change, though. Just last week, the House of Representatives voted almost unanimously to curb the program.
The concern is with a specific policy in the asset forfeiture. It’s what’s known as “adoptive forfeiture.” Adoptive forfeiture gives police departments more leverage when seizing property from suspected criminals, even if they’re never charged with a crime. It’s a significant source of revenue for local law enforcement and the federal government. Between 2001 and 2014, the federal government seized $29 billion worth of money and property. The Institute for Justice says most of it was seized without charging anyone with a crime.
The Denver Police Department recently acquired a Tesla through the Asset Forfeiture program. Investigators cannot discuss the circumstances under which it was seized because the case is still open and the suspect has not been convicted of a crime. In this case, police say the suspect relinquished the car. This means it will be a permanent fixture of DPD, though not for patrol. It’s used as a community outreach tool.
“We could either sell it or we could let the community take advantage of it, touch it, see it and enjoy it,” said Sonny Jackson, spokesman for the Denver Police Department.
Twenty-five states, including Colorado, have passed reforms in recent years to protect citizens from forfeiture abuse but the Institute for Justice still grades most protections as below average, giving the federal government a D-.
According to the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police, there is no evidence to suggest that asset forfeiture is problematic in Colorado.
The latest bill to curb the asset forfeiture program at the federal level still needs to pass in the Senate in order to override the order made in July by Sessions.
Jamie Leary joined the CBS4 team in 2015 and currently works as a reporter for CBS4 News at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. She couldn’t imagine a better place to live and work and will stop at nothing to find the next great story. Jamie loves learning about and hearing from her fellow community members, so connect with her on Facebook or Twitter @JamieALeary.