Asset Forfeiture: A Cop Shopping Spree

by | Nov 11, 2014


Undercover police monitoring a bar in Las Cruces, New Mexico were giddy with covetousness when they saw a man drive up in a brand-new Mercedes. As city attorney Harry S. Connelly later explained, the cops were delighted to find that the man had been drinking, exclaiming: “We can hardly wait.”

Under what Las Cruces calls the law, vehicles can be confiscated from suspected drunk drivers through civil asset forfeiture – a process that doesn’t require a criminal conviction, or even criminal charges.

In a videotaped seminar teaching prosecutors the art of asset forfeiture (which was obtained by the good folks at the Institute for Justice), Connelly explained that he encourages police to send him wish lists when they seize property: “If you want the car, and you really want to put it in your fleet, let me know – I’ll fight for it. If you don’t … I’ll try to resolve it real quick through a settlement and get cash for the car….”

“Mr. McMurtry made it clear that forfeitures were highly contingent on the needs of law enforcement,” points out the Times. “In New Jersey, the police and prosecutors are allowed to use cars, cash and other seized goods; the rest must be sold at auction. Cellphones and jewelry, Mr. McMurtry said, are not worth the bother. Flat screen televisions, however, `are very popular with the police departments,’ he said.”

Thanks to the practice of asset forfeiture, every traffic stop and undercover police operation is a potential shopping expedition for the police, who can steal what they want and devise a justification at leisure. Like the Bolshevik commissars depicted in Dr. Zhivago, who would exclaim “It’s only just!” as they seize the property of the bourgeoise at gunpoint, American cops consider themselves entitled to poach whatever they can from the public they supposedly serve.

“I’m your modern-day Robin Hood,” gloated a police chief in New Jersey. “I steal from the rich, the drug dealers, to give to the poor, the police.” The reality, of course, is that the police are faring much better than their private sector competition in the criminal underworld: Two Long Island County police departments confiscated $31 million through asset forfeiture.

Most asset forfeiture operations are entirely opaque to the public, and are used as slush funds for both official business and the indulgence of the personal whims of police and prosecutors.

The New York Times points out that forfeiture seminars like those taught by Connelly are commonplace, which is both alarming and entirely predictable, given the increasingly predatory nature of the regime that rules us.

Reprinted with permission from


  • William Norman Grigg

    William Norman Grigg was an American author of several books from a constitutionalist perspective. He was formerly a senior editor of The New American magazine, the official publication of the John Birch Society and Managing Editor of The Libertarian Institute.

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