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Edmond, Norman take full advantage of state’s lax asset forfeiture laws, dramatically increase seizures

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NORMAN, Okla. – “Policing for Profit” probably isn’t good for a PD’s public relations image, right? One would think that a police department wouldn’t want to cultivate such an image in the public’s mind, but for Edmond to the north and Norman to the south, the respective police departments appear to be living up to the phrase. 

From 2012 to 2015, Norman police reported $1.2 million in seizures, a 74 percent increase from the four years previous, according to a recent NewsOK article by Andrew Knittle. Thanks to Oklahoma’s extremely generous civil asset forfeiture laws, police departments can keep 100 percent of the proceeds taken. 

This is where the phrase “Policing for Profit” comes from, and it’s hard not to see that Oklahoma deserves it. And what they take, they spend.  Over $1 million of the seized proceeds from 2009 to 2015 in Norman, a four-fold increase in spending over the previous four years. 

For Edmond, $1.6 million in seizures was reported between 2009 and 2015.  Only $653,577 was seized during the previous 17 years.  Of the $1.6 million, $1.2 million was spent.

For both departments, the seized money was used for things like employee salaries, payroll for other city workers, payments to a local animal hospital, etc. The Edmond PD bought a “mobile command trailer” and other police tech. 

They also blew $15,000 on a drug-sniffing dog, an animal proven to have a drug-sniffing record that’s on par with a coin flip and widely known to be used as an excuse to search someone’s vehicle. (As an aside, when lives depend on the accuracy of an animal’s nose, people use rats, which can accurately sniff out a land mine.  But then again, accuracy isn’t the goal of the drug dog. It’s the excuse for a warrantless search.)

The problem with this is that the public is seen as a source of revenue to be harvested. This is thanks to the ridiculous laws on the books here in Oklahoma, where police can take your stuff if they don’t like your story as to how you obtained it. 

And they don’t even have to file criminal charges against you; they just keep it. If you want your stuff back, you, the skinned property owner, must go to court and contest the shake-down. 

This is what has many activists in Oklahoma riled up, as well as state senator Kyle Loveless. The fact that there is no barrier between seized property and the police department’s use of that property creates a horrific conflict of interest. 

This is why Oklahoma cops go to special seminars to learn how to get the most loot out of their victims. This is why Okie cops are raking in more and more money. 

This is why Oklahoma has earned a ‘D’ rating from the Institute for Justice for its asset forfeiture practices. This is why people are up in arms over the practice. 

“Innocent until proven guilty in a court of law” is inconvenient for law enforcement, but vital to the preservation of a free society. Sidestepping it for the sake of convenience is fatal. 

But, then again, asset forfeiture is merely a symptom of the Drug War.  End the Drug War, let the black markets evaporate, and the cops won’t have a reason to rob people blind. Until that day arrives, severing the link between seized funds and police access to those funds, as well as ending the practice of asset forfeiture entirely, would be a big step in the right direction.

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Shane Smith

Shane Smith is an accountant and freelance writer with a bachelor's degree in economics from...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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