New Mexico Police Are Mad They Just Can't Take Your Stuff and Sell It for Profit Anymore

AP

It's been less than a week since New Mexico's House Bill 560 went into effect, and law enforcement officials are already mad.

Before July 1, it was completely legal for the police to seize money and property from people who had not been convicted of any crime and auction it off for profit — a practice that's been used to fund law enforcement practices across the country for the past 30 years.

The police like it because it gives them a nice little chunk of extra spending cash each year: For the Region II Narcotics Task Force, which patrols New Mexico's San Juan County, civil asset forfeiture accounts for 25% of their yearly operational finances, according to the Daily Times. That's $100,000 extra toward training and new equipment.

Now, guess who doesn't like it? Anyone who's ever had a car, house or money confiscated during a police investigation and then sold so that departments could make up for their budgetary shortcomings.

After more than two years, Matt Lee won back his $2,400 taken from him through civil forfeiture in July 2011 by the sheriff's department in Humboldt County, Nevada. As part of the agreement, he had to sign a form, releasing the Humboldt County Sheriff's Department of any liability.Source: The Washington Post/Getty Images
After more than two years, Matt Lee won back his $2,400 taken from him through civil forfeiture in July 2011 by the sheriff's department in Humboldt County, Nevada. As part of the agreement, he had to sign a form, releasing the Humboldt County Sheriff's Department of any liability.  The Washington Post/Getty Images

The problem here is pretty obvious: If the police are allowed to just take people's stuff and sell it so they can buy new equipment, it clearly incentivizes taking people's stuff. Which is, in fact, exactly what's happened: Since Congress OK'd the use of seized assets to fund police operations in 1984, the practice has (surprise!) skyrocketed.

In 1986, the Department of Justice's Assets Forfeiture Fund, which collects and redistributes assets seized by local departments in states that don't just let the police keep them, raked in $93.7 million, according to the Institute for Justice. In 2008, that number topped $1 billion for the first time ever.

New Mexico is now one of the only places in the country that requires these seized assets to go straight to the state's general fund — thereby (ostensibly) weakening the profit incentive for police by not letting them simply sell the goods on their own.

This is still not great for the people of New Mexico. The police can still seize citizens' property without due process. And though it's a step in the right direction — "right direction," in this case, meaning "the police no longer being able to steal and sell your things at will" — whether it actually makes a difference remains to be seen.

Nevertheless, law enforcement officials are already complaining about how HB560 is cutting into their budgets. "I don't think that they anticipated how much it's going to hit local law enforcement, and we're still trying to figure out how bad it's going to hit us," Farmington, New Mexico, police Chief Steve Hebbe told the Daily Times

It's a cold world out there, America. But who ever said policing was easy?

h/t Daily Times