Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Police Civil Asset Forfeitures Exceed All Burglaries in 2014 (armstrongeconomics.com)
447 points by ccvannorman on Nov 18, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 129 comments

Keep this in mind when police or politicians push any legislation to give them more power over you, do more surveillance, or have less accountability. Especially as they push it over the "threat" of ISIS. Remember that they do more financial damage and kill more people than any terrorist outfit outside one-hit-wonders like 9/11.

We need to fight civil forfeiture and all legislation like it.

Even if you added deaths by police and deaths by terrorists together, it would probably still not be in the top 50 leading causes of death (I'm still trying to find data with all causes of deaths in the US).

The CDC has a relatively comprehensive data set here: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/deaths.htm

It's definitely not everything, but I don't know of a better data source...

True, but people fear terrorism because it's something they can't control. Police are also something people can't control, so comparing police deaths to terrorism deaths is a great comparison.

I think a lot of people think they can control police deaths. I think a lot of people see a young man killed by the police and think "that would never be me; I'd just do what they ask" or "my son would be polite and not argue so he wouldn't find himself in that situation." I think that is the reason police brutality issues are so hard to solve.

That's a good point; I can see and understand people rationalizing like that. It's unfortunate that many will never experience the reality of being a minority in police situations.

And that's sadly because people have an illusion they can control the things from the CDC list. They can't control them either.

Ah, the radical majority of Americans can't control their likelihood of getting diabetes? That's obviously false, easily proven by countless other nations that don't have the same problems the US does with diabetes (or by going back in time a few decades, when Americans also did not).

Let's you and I both smoke six packs of cigarettes per day for 20 years as an experiment and see whether we can control getting lung cancer and or emphysema to a very large degree.

Is it complete control? No, it's very near that.

Obesity? (which causes numerous other diseases) Yep, we can control that too.

If you mean control as in choice between "little less likely" and "little more likely" then yes, everyone can control diabetes and obesity. But in fact, you can control your risk of dying in a terror attack much more than risk of getting diabetes! Just never visit big malls, never attend mass events, never use public transport. Better yet, move to a village far away from city and always travel by your car. There, you've reduced your risk of dying in a terror attack to pretty much zero.

> Is it complete control? No, it's very near that.

It's definitely nowhere near that, especially in terms of things like diabetes (partially genetically determined) or heart attacks. You'd have to go to absurd lengths to control those near-completely. For instance, we know of one good way of controlling obesity, and that is to lock everyone in Nazi-style death camps. You won't get obese if you're fed 1500 kcal a day. You also won't be very happy.

The widespread belief that we have so much personal control over those diseases is probably one of the biggest reasons why they haven't been solved yet.

Man your last comment blows my mind. The idea that obesity is a disease people are afflicted by and is not, largely, a function of their eating choices, that widespread delusion (thankfully fading), is actually why obesity and diabetes are so widespread.

I personally know several obese people with diabetes who still regularly drink coke (not diet! 40g of sugar per can!) and their doctor has never told them to stop because they've been told it is genetics and their only option is to cut fat intake which does not work.

Everyone dies of something one day but the number of people in the US who die young of heart disease or suffer from diabetes is completely absurd and definitely (for the most part) avoidable.

I think you're putting way too much faith in "free will".

The idea isn't that obesity is 100% caused by bacteria, or genes, or unicorns. Of course it's a function of your eating choices - you can choose not to eat and you won't die a fat man. The problem is that people arguing obesity is "just a choice" and overweight people are "just lazy" are missing the point that some "choices" aren't practical. If obesity was "just a choice", we wouldn't have this problem after decades of massive shaming of overweight people and massive push for fitness and everything-fit. Instead, the more we shame people for being obese, the more population stays obese. Interesting, isn't it?

Anyway, Yvain discusses this and related topics better than I ever could:




> If obesity was "just a choice", we wouldn't have this problem after decades of massive shaming of overweight people and massive push for fitness and everything-fit. Instead, the more we shame people for being obese, the more population stays obese. Interesting, isn't it?

Is it inconceivable that some people just value the pleasure they get from eating more than that of adding a few years to the end of their lives? They're not necessarily lazy or stupid, they just may have different values that you. You can ask someone why they're obese and due to societal pressures they may tell you a story about how they can't stop or its genetics, but actions speak louder than words.

Most people have behaviors that is not beneficial to their health (drinking, living in a polluted city, not exercising the optimal amount). Longevity isn't the point of life.

After a certain point, it isn't a question of valuing one thing over another, but instead a question of addiction. People who are addicted to cigarettes smoke them because their body feels the need to. Once hooked, it's _very_ difficult to force yourself to stop.

The problem is clearly one of lack of self-control, as with drugs and everything else. The question is why we don't treat obese people as addicts, and try to mitigate easy access to food. If you're obese and your pantry is always full of food, how much weight do you think you're going to lose?

> The problem is clearly one of lack of self-control...

I'm not aware of enough evidence to say that it's clearly anything... if you have references on this I'd be keen to hear them.

Short of some actual studies in this area, I'm skeptical.

Baumeister's work on ego depletion showed that self-control isn't a constant trait, it varies with other factors, so to show that self-control was the problem you'd have to show that there are no more hidden variables.

"Clearly" may have been too strong a word, but what I meant was that lack of self-control is a large component in addiction and we're failing to account for it adequately in obesity.

> ...self-control is a large component in addiction...

I don't know the literature on addiction. What's that opinion based on?

There's definite evidence to support the idea of physiological or external factors influencing obesity, e.g. gut bacterea influencing food choices, envionmental differences changing things like portion size.

Which, to circle back to my original comment in this subthread, only shows that indeed people only have an illusion they can, personally for themselves, control (this particular item of) items on the CDC list. "Lack of self-control" as a widespread problem is exactly that.

guys, are you aware there are 2 types of diabetes, to simplify it one is genetic and you can get it even if you are doing marathons regularly and have a healthy life, and the other is self-caused by bad eating/lifestyle habits? With first you are screwed, with second you can get out of it if you go into very strict diet, probably for rest of your life.

death by police is tracked here (1051): http://killedbypolice.net/ ... cancer kills about 580,000 and automobiles get about 32,500 for comparison.

Comparing it to Cancer is not really fair. Compare it to other violent murders for a fair comparison. Do the police kill more or less than regular criminals who aren't wearing uniforms?

It was strictly in reply to "it would probably still not be in the top 50 leading causes of death".

It may be in there depending on how you count. Police deaths account for 0.34 per 100,000, greater than war (0.30) and less than tetanus (0.38).

Wow, wonder what cops think about this page and if ever tried to shut it down.

Someone is doing extensive work organizing all this on a daily basis. Too bad we don't know how many were bad guys and how many innocent, but that would be hard to followup and monitor.

It's a spectrum. Some, like this 6 year old (http://theadvocate.com/news/13907799-176/few-details-emergin...) leave the officer in greater culpability than this active shootout with police (http://www.pe.com/articles/riverside-784400-officers-stop.ht...) where the driver sped away and died in a car crash against a barrier.

If you scroll through and read the stories, most of them seem to be either terrible car crashes or violent criminals.

Presuming that officers work 2080 hours a year and there are 765,000 with arresting power, you are 1755 times more likely to interface with a not-a-cop than a cop on the job. Therefore, you are 160 times more likely to be killed X minutes with a police officer than X minutes with some stranger. 15 seconds with 1 cop is as dangerous as 15 seconds with 160 random people.

My friends in south LA from different backgrounds have a mantra to never call the cops under any condition. The idea is that however bad a situation can get, introduction of the police will incontrovertibly make it a de facto worse situation. Whether true or not, this seems to be a gut intuition to many (search google for "never call the police" to see people express this view).

The crux of the question is two-fold:

1. Does bringing police into any situation generally lead to worse consequences than avoiding them?

2. If we believe that violence is always an inferior solution that lacks efficacy, then why should we invite state-sanctioned violence into our lives voluntarily? Stated another way, why is the government provided service to someone with psychological distress two people with firearms locking them in a cage? Shouldn't we provide a more appropriate government service for this?

That first link is absolutely horrific.

Yeah, but the rest are predominantly either a) disease we're trying to control, or b) tradeoffs we make ourselves (e.g. car accidents because we individually accept the risk of driving). Governments are there to protect citizens -- the burden of proof is on them as to whether the use of force is necessary, and ours in the US doesn't default to protecting citizens at all.

I think you're missing the point of the comment. It's not about the leading causes of death or where best to invest our money.

Sorry if I didn't address civil forfeiture... of course that is wrong.

My comment was posted in relation to "... kill more people than any terrorist ..." which I don't think has anything to do with civil forfeiture.

The overall gist of it was that police are one of the top threats to civilians in the U.S. whether innocent or guilty. I didn't even bring up eminent domain although someone suggested I should. All these discussions around surveillance are tied to how increases in their power protect us. Yet, that can't be true if they consistently use their power to abuse, rob, or murder us without cause. And what they get away with now suggests we should be extra skeptical of adding security or immunity.

That is very true and you might think that my next point is off-topic but too much surveillance power (or lack of privacy) is also a treat to democracy.

Nah that's consistent with my point. Plus leads one to think of even more issues that exist. :)

Yeah, but cancer doesn't have an agenda.

Home burglary is almost dead. What's to steal? Any TV you can carry is almost worthless. There's no market in used desktop computers, or used furniture. Nobody has cameras any more. Few people keep much cash around. Phones are probably in the owner's pocket, not left in their house. And because the economy is down at the low end, pawn shops and flea markets are choked with stuff they can't sell.

There have been single white collar crimes that exceed the value of all US burglaries. Madoff alone stole more than five years of burglaries.

The FBI has their priorities wrong. The FBI's Uniform Crime Reports tally a burglary when it is reported, but a while collar crime only when an arrest is made. This creates the illusion that white collar crime is much smaller than it is.

  Home burglary is almost dead.

"The median dollar value of items and cash stolen during completed household burglaries increased 54 percent from 1994 to 2011, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced today. The median financial loss during completed burglaries in 1994 was $389 (adjusted for inflation), compared to $600 in 2011. The average dollar loss in 2011 among households that lost $1 or more was about $2,120."

The rate dropped significantly. From your link:

From 1994 to 2011, the rate of all burglaries (attempted and completed) decreased 56 percent, from a peak of 63.4 to 27.6 victimizations per 1,000 U.S. households. The number of burglaries experienced by U.S. households declined 47 percent, from about 6.4 million burglaries in 1994 to about 3.4 million in 2011

I'm not surprised that median went up, I would expect that as a side effect of a significant drop in the rate.

The number of occurrences dropped significantly, while the dollar amount (in real dollars) went up substantially. Burglars tend to work in teams nowadays.

The report breaks things out better:


Table 5 sort of shows what I was getting at, burglaries of lower income households dropped a lot more than burglaries in general. One explanation of that is that lower end break ins aren't worth it anymore.

If that is the case, the average would go up without the rest of the burglaries really changing.

(I guess that could be described as a change in the distribution of burglaries rather than a shift in the distribution; I read your reply here as pointing to a shift)

This is anecdotal, of course, but there are frequent TV news stories here in the SF Bay Area showing surveillance video of burglaries and home invasions; three a the typical crew size.

One thing we don't know is how many small-take thefts just go unreported now, as break-ins (of autos, especially) have become epidemic. My city doesn't even send a response for property crimes now. The victim just files a report on their website for insurance purposes. A friend in Berkeley had two petty burglaries in the past year-plus and didn't report for that reason.

And also it seems to me it'd be easier to walk in and steal tablets, phones, and laptops which are actually worth something really quickly compared to casing the whole house for jewelery which may or may not be locked up, can be very unique, and probably way harder to fence.

So you've got expensive non-unique items that others want in easier to find locations, a definite win for the burglar I'd think.

I'd look at this the ither way around. All the electronics have serial numbers and need to be taken out if state or out of country to have any value. Gold jewelry is easily melted down and completely untraceable.

Last time our place was burgled, they ignored laptops and cameras and went for the jewelry.

Very strange. I'd assume they'd fence it to known associates.

If somebody steals my phone, I can report it stolen and none of the major carriers in the US will allow its IMEI to register on their networks. This effectively renders it useless to anyone who buys it.

There was an organized crew here that would snatch phones from people's hands and run off the subway as the doors closed. They just changed the IMEI and resold them and got away with this for almost 2yrs before getting caught

Until the phone is sent to a foreign country. We have had IMEI registration here in Australia for years and phones still get stolen.

how much home alarm tech and cams and surveillance etc was there in 1994? Not nearly as much.

The general spending of all people on electronics is much higher now than in 1994.

So the rate is lower, the security is higher, the value of available goods to steal in any given home are higher.

It doesnt matter if they cant hock them at pawn shops. I have ~20 computers in my home.... many monitors etc...

So yeah the rate is down, but the value and density of targets has increased -- but it metered by also much more vigilant and camera ready people

We were burgled last week, and they stole thousands of dollars worth of jewellery, a laptop and two ipads...

...and the spare key for my car, which they used to steal the car.

Sorry for your loss, but thanks for the reminder that I shouldn't be keeping my spare key in a visible place when I leave home.

I'm thinking that a small safe is probably the best bet, which can also be used to store documents like passports.

Make sure it's bolted down too. As a rule, expect it to be about as difficult to remove as it was to install.

We have a small safe that we use to store sex toys so our kids won't find them. Hopefully if we ever get burgled they'll make off with our sex toys rather than tearing the house apart looking for other valuables (in vain, because we own none)

A safe attracts attention. It screams - there's something valuable inside. They would probably just take it with them and break at some other point. I keep the spare keys and documents in a place they would have to take the house apart to find.

Man, car theft is a really dick thing to do. It's like your simultaneously maximizing inconvenience to the former owner and the odds that you're going to get caught. Wouldn't it make sense to put your effort into items that are easier to transport, conceal, and fence?

Chances of being caught are actually not as high as you'd think - stolen cars are often not sold as a whole, but rather fenced to shady mechanics who will strip it down and sell the parts individually, without association with the original license plate or VIN.

I was flying in an LAPD helicopter the other day, and they spotted a half chopped car in an alley between two buildings downtown. Said they find them pretty frequently and it's hard to track back to the original thieves.

they don't have to be a mechanic. anyone with a cheap set of tools and an ebay account can be selling 'used' parts all day long.

Similar deal with my parents - their house was burgled while they were sleeping - they got MacBooks, iPads, an iPhone, wallets, and then the car keys so they got the car. Luckily jewellery was in their bedroom where the burglars didn't go.

A friend of mine had both his cars stolen a couple years ago (keys were out on a table, I think).

There are ~20 break-ins and car prowls a year in our town, a small one near Seattle. They've caught a few of the bad guys doing this (it is a chancy and protracted process).

Mostly they seem to be looking for laptops, cash, jewelry and similar small things easily sold (guessing, for drug money). We also have a lot of mail getting stolen, so identity theft is a thing, too.

We're not under siege, but burglary is not dead, either.

Doesn't sound like a typical household, therefore unlikely to be a common occurrence.

That's not true. Especially in areas where there's lots of impoverished areas near areas with stuff to steal. Property theft is a skill easily picked up with Craigslist and eBay making fencing easier than ever. Unless you have a better way for crooked, broke people with few professional skills to make $1000-5000 in under a half hours' risk. ;)

Also, with the proliferation of internet-connected devices, a lot of electronics can't be resold if stolen. If an iPhone is stolen you can remotely lock it and it won't be usable as long as it's still in the country, and many TVs will send phone-homes that can be used to trace stolen property.

Not sure whether this adds up in case of burglary, but you can sell iPhones and iPads for spare parts. I think the hardware of a new iPhone would be worth something north of $100 in Shenzhen. Probably even more in the western repair shop, where they compete only with producer's parts that have huge markup.

Source: I just got half of my S4 replaced with brand new parts for 1/4 the price of the parts themselves because I gave them my broken screen (with working electronics).

The FBI's Uniform Crime Reports tally a burglary when it is reported, but a while collar crime only when an arrest is made.

There's some justification for this: It's very common to say "a burglary has clearly occurred but we don't know who is responsible", but with white-collar crime it's almost impossible to know whether an act was illegal until you've identified who did it.

These guys forced their way into a house to rob a 7yr old at gunpoint for spare change you'd be surprised the idiocy of criminals http://blogs.vancouversun.com/tag/rouslan-erchov/

Lot's of burglary stats are manipulated too in order for police to not draw heat from the public http://mobile.reuters.com/article/idUSBRE82818620120309

Home burglary is far from dead. I can look out my front window and see two houses burglarized in the last five years or so, and the neighborhood listserve regularly mentions attempts. The rate may have diminished over the last few decades, since the days when Denver precincts used to keep the burglaries in one ledger, everything else in another.

It's hard to miss a burglary, but a white collar crime, cleverly done, can escape notice indefinitely.

Let's not forget extortion-like tactics employed by many trial lawyers - "here's a meritless claim, and it will be cheaper/easier to just pay the ransom to make me go away (only I will be very careful never to use that word)". I agree with Animats. While police seizures are worrisome, we have to put the risk into perspective.

Good points! It's hard to account for white collar crime. To some degree the entire financial system is rife with borderline criminal activity.

Any assets seized by police should be counted as revenue, and should go to the general fund to be allocated by the legislature. Separation of powers.

Any assets seized by police should be burned in a bonfire.* Anything else causes poorly-aligned incentives.

*OK, maybe I would agree with donated to certain causes, if chosen carefully.

I'd actually go further. The 5th Amendment to the US Constitution would appear to ban this activity.

"No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."

Rand Paul has introduced legislation to restore the protection the amendment should provide: https://reason.com/blog/2015/01/27/rand-paul-reintroduces-bi...

President Obama appointed Loretta Lynch as AG, who has a proven track record of using civil asset forfeiture to advance her career. http://www.cato.org/blog/loretta-lynchs-worrisome-answer-civ...

It is very sad, but our Bill of Rights is getting eroded by horrible legislation. Our founding fathers predicted this bad government behavior by giving us the B.o.R. Now, we are just standing here watching it be slowly taken from us.

Edit for clarity.

Out of curiosity I looked up murder stats as well. Roughly 1000 were killed by police in 2014 nationwide, whereas nationwide civilian murder toll reached about 10,000. So at least police aren't killing more people than regular people?

That is primarily true because we are a heavily/overly militarized and protected country. If it were easier to frequently fly planes in to large buildings I think we can all agree religious extremists would be killing a significantly larger number of people in the US. It is *lack of opportunity that prevents this, not a passivity that is greater than that of police officers.

How many people are waiting in a TSA checkpoint at busy times, unprotected? And yet, we haven't seen those groups of people massacred.

More people's lives have been spent in line waiting to get through US airport security since 9/11/2001 than died at the WTC on that day. A rough estimate is 788M passengers/year * 15 minutes * 14 years / 80 years per lifetime > 4000 lifetimes. Now if only my Macintosh would boot faster...

> How many people are waiting in a TSA checkpoint at busy times, unprotected?

None; even outside the "secured" areas, airports are one of the most heavily patrolled places open to the public.

Obviously, that doesn't make attacks impossible, but characterizing that locale as "unprotected" is unreasonable.

The security line is almost by definition pre-security, and often includes dozens or hundreds of people.

> The security line is almost by definition pre-security

The security screening line is (just) outside of a particular layer of security; the area of the airport outside that layer, including the line, is still one of the most heavily patrolled areas open to the public in the US, it is not "unprotected".

Maybe you couldn't get to the screening line with a rifle strapped to your back, but you almost certainly could with a bomb strapped to your chest under your jacket.

You could bring one hell of a big suitcase bomb. Weight limits would not apply, and size limits only vaguely. Lug in one of those really big roller suitcases filled with high explosives and nails, roll it right into the security line, and... I'm on a list now.

If you want to be really douchy about such an attack, use liquid explosives in 1L soda bottles. Say that you forgot about the regulations and dutifully throw them together into the bin...

(I'm probably on the list already anyway.)

And now I feel better about my hesitant "maybe".

I thought the problem was there is no tally of people killed by police. There's no central registry, no requirement to report. The only stats collected on this are people collecting news clippings, but of course many things don't make the newspapers. Probably the police kill fewer people than non-police killers, but we don't really know.


All burglaries are wrongful, but only some unspecified fraction of civil asset forfeitures are wrongful. You need to multiply the first number by that percentage before comparing the two numbers. The comparison in the article is thus nonsense.

nope, because they could have been forfeited by a court anyways.

Civil forfeiture requires a showing in front of a court.

Yes, I used the wrong concept. My point is that a fair trial against a defendant would also forfeit the ill acquired assets.

Not actually. It merely requires a cop.

And the state has been known to kidnap your children if you try to dispute the issue.

The issue though is that your money, car, etc, is gone instantly and you're on the side of the road hitch-hiking home. No hearing, no evidence even.

The fact that a hearing is part of the process is largely irrelevant because other parts of the system to conspire to keep victims from reaching the hearing or getting justice.

I wish the body of the article separated stats for civil forfeiture vs. criminal forfeiture.

The source number isn't even clearly based on seizures in 2014. At least it's linked:


That says that federal account balances from seizures totaled $4.5 billion in 2014. It also says that Madoff and Toyota each contributed more than $1 billion to those accounts.

edit to add: It seems likely that the seizure is only related to the Madoff case, not that it came from Madoff directly, in another comment I linked a BBC article saying the forfeiture came from JP Morgan.

Toyota? That's a seizure? In what sense? Are fines considered the same as seizures?

Apparently for the purposes of this article.

I got that far and decided I wasn't going to spend any more time looking into the claims as presented in the link and flagged it.

Bit off-topic but https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html say flagging is for off-topic and spam, not low quality (they also explicitly request not commenting to say you flagged something).

> they also explicitly request not commenting to say you flagged something

They just if you comment nothing else, it's OK to mention it as an aside to a more useful comment.

Living as an American in Kenya give me a lot of perspective to what the logical endpoint is if certain government practices get put on steroids, such as this.

While in the United States it sounds alarmist to think of this all as a system of organized, police-mandated shakedowns, that's very common here. In 4 out of 5 times I hear folks get pulled over by cops, the driver had to pay a bribe. Police regularly go to businesses demanding regular payments else they shut down the companies.

I wouldn't have give this a second thought before, but after living here, I see what its like living under degraded institutions.

In India it is similar.

Also they (Indians) say "if you see a dead body don't call the police, you will end up in prison for murder"

Washington Post's Wonkblog has more on this with a graph of CA seizuires from 2001-2014. It's staggering (I looked it up doubting the Armstrong blog, ended up verifying it):


I would like to see these numbers by each and every precinct or branch.

There was a post some time back about some new building and equipment a Florida PD built with their stolen money.

Police civil asset forfeitures are burglaries.

How much more evidence do people need before we all readily conceed that America is a police state?

Before you can change reality you must first understand the reality that exists.

Police steal and murder without consequence. They are a gang of murderous thugs protected by a corrupt court and legislative body.

When 65% of the amount that the headline uses came from Toyota and Bernie Madoff [1], I'm not sure that this article actually supports that conclusion. Reasonable people can debate whether Toyota should have paid $1.2 billion for the unintended acceleration debacle, but it's not in any material way related to being a police state. I'm not sure that reasonable people can debate whether Bernie Madoff should have disgorged his ill-gained profits, but it represents $1.7 billion of the $4.5 billion total. Taking from Madoff is hardly gangland material.

[1] http://www.thecrimereport.org/news/crime-and-justice-news/20... -- Linked from the link.

That's %65 of the amount that would otherwise have potentially gone to pay liabilities to the people wronged. Instead of going to the victims of those accidents or that fraud, it went to the government.

This is the amazing thing about the government provided judicial system-- for many crimes, instead of making the victim whole, the "justice" system instead profits via fines, or denies the victim justice by incarcerating the criminal.

Which would be better for, say, a person convicted of stealing a car and then wrecking it-- going to jail for 5 years or paying the owner of the car 5 times its retail value (over the next 10 years)?

The "justice" system will put him in jail, making it effectively impossible for him to repay his victim and make the victim whole.

Whether this supports an argument for a police state or not, it certainly supports an argument for corruption-- denying victims compensation and taking it for yourself (in the form of fines, or more bodies for the prison industrial complex which pays you back in campaign donations) is corruption.

It's probably going to the victims:


It also seems it was paid by JP Morgan.

Fines and imprisonment are intended to be deterrents as well as retribution. In America it's not politically viable to scale fines according to the perpetrator's ability to pay, so jail time is the only deterrent that will work on rich people. Wealth varies greatly but everybody gets roughly the same lifespan. Although in practice it doesn't work so well because rich people also have better ability to avoid prison time.

I am not sure this article leads to that conclusion. Most of this money comes from drug busts. You can argue about whether or not heavily addicting drugs like cocaine should be legal, but that $12 billion was not seized from John and Jane Doe for no reason. Is the rule misused? It sure seems like it is, occasionally. Should we as a nation abolish it? Maybe. but most of the funds are confiscated from drug dealers who would use the money... to sell more drugs. And to buy tigers and mansions, of course, but also to distribute drugs. Also, drug cartels have a penchant to murder a ton of people. Sometimes 20,000+ a year. Leaving the money with them seems like a poor choice.

Money seized in drug busts: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=9149048...

Drug cartels and homicide: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/foreign-affairs-defe...

You wrote: "Most of this money comes from drug busts... not seized from John and Jane Doe for no reason"

Yet, reports in the media [1] fit a common pattern: the officer encounters a person carrying several thousand dollars in cash, and takes it asserting it was drug related. This assertion doesn't require proof or even that the person involved be charged with a drug offence.

[1] John Oliver, Last Week Tonight, Oct 5, 2014 / https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3kEpZWGgJks

There is zero evidence that any significant amount of the above number happened under circumstances like those you mention.

Your equivocation of clearly immoral behavior is suggestive.

Is stealing wrong? Yes, yes it is. How many more decades of a failed war on drugs policy do you need before you accept and argue for a change of course?

When bad laws create the incentive which results in 10,000s of murders it is imperative to change those incentives, even the Mexican government is now clamoring for change, but the war on drugs is too convenient for the status quo and justifies all sorts of government empowerment.

But in the face of a murderous institution I'm happy we have some fellow Willing to equivocate and defend senseless murder, torture, and theft, good job dude.

> I'm happy we have some fellow Willing to equivocate and defend senseless murder, torture, and theft, good job dude.

Personal attacks are not allowed on Hacker News. We ban accounts that do this, so please (re-)read the guidelines and don't do this.



Sorry if I came across that way, I really do not think it is that black and white. At all. Nor do I think any person, police or not, is infallible. That said, the US is emphatically NOT a police state. East Germany and the Soviet Bloc were police states. North Korea is a police state. Applying that term to asset forfeiture shows a tremendous ignorance of what it means. You might not think so, but in an asset forfeiture case in the US you do, in fact, have access to courts. Courts where primarily impartial judges sit, that have no connection to the police force. Is the system perfect? Gosh no. But to say 21st century american police officers are like the Stasi is absurd, and seeing people up-vote those sentiments on HN is sort of terrifying.

Your argument that the victims were drug dealers has several problems that I can see:

1. Presumption of accuracy Just because the cops claim that the money is "Drug money" doesn't make it so. As a victim of asset forfeiture, that money was claimed to be "Terrorism" money but it was laughable on its face.

2. Presumption of guilt. Even if it was taken from a genuine drug dealer, the dealer is innocent until proven guilty, but the money is taken before this proof is achieved. Thus this denies the dealer the opportunity to provide for his defense.

Someone I went to high school with was the victim of this. He was not a drug dealer, he was a doctor. An oncologist who had a great many terminal patients. He was raided by the DEA because he was giving these cancer patients "too much" pain medication. His assets and house were frozen, he was taken to jail and his wife and kid were left homeless while he had to try and defend himself...with no money to hire a lawyer. His wife worked part time as a receptionist in his office- so the prosecutor threatened to put her in jail as an accomplice, forcing his kids into the "Care" of the state if he didn't take a plea deal. He had no money for counsel, and no choice so he plead guilty. This is a doctor whose "crime" was caring for his patients. You would say he must have been guilty because he was convicted. And therefor this is drug money, but that's a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, and misses the point that he was forced to plead guilty by having his ability to hire a defense team denied to him via the theft.

Finally, you're being absurd to say that you have access to the courts and that they are impartial. As my case showed me, the judge knew that the affidavit for seizure of the property was fraudulent-- he knew it, because he had been presented proof of it the week prior-- yet he still authorized the theft. The cops and the judges and the prosecutors all work for the state, and the judges are not independant. They are dependent on keeping their job by towing the line.

This is why cops and judges are almost never prosecuted. No cop would dare testify, no prosecutor will bring charges and no judge would allow the case in his court.

civil asset forfeiture is getting there, though. What good is access to courts, if a conviction in that court is not needed to confiscate your property? After all, the Soviet block had courts too...

There may be a better term to use. Kleptocracy.

It's also somewhat wrong for this purpose, but it's less wrog. Traditionally the word has been associated with banana republics and politically unstable nations whose heads of state and ruling elite sell off national assets, rob their citizens and otherwise stripmine their entire countries, before fleeing.

In this case you have police turning into criminal gangs, protected by the justice system. And with civil forfeiture they are literally engaging in legalised highway robbery.

" If he can unilaterally declare a Worst Argument, then so can I. I declare the Worst Argument In The World to be this: "If we can apply an emotionally charged word to something, we must judge it exactly the same as a typical instance of that emotionally charged word."Well, it sounds dumb when you put it like that. Who even does that, anyway?"


At the present time an average police officer can shoot an average unarmed person, kill them and will likely face zero criminal charges for the act.

In all seriousness, that is getting very close to a police state.

"At the present time an average police officer can shoot an average unarmed person, kill them and will likely face zero criminal charges"

Do you have an independent reference for that, by any chance?

It would also be interesting to hear your opinion as to typical motive for doing such a thing.

How can you afford legal representation if the police just seized your money (or even house)?

In a criminal case, you would get a Public Defender.

In a civil case, there are public-interest agencies who may be interested, or with a strong case a skilled attorney could take your case on contingency.

So your answer is "You cannot, but you are free to beg for charity, the state has decided you aren't allowed to hire an attorney with the time and skill necessary to defend you so you won't be needing a trial, here is a public defender who will happily help you agree to a plea deal since we've already decided you are guilty, don't waste our time and money by asserting your 'rights'"

Have you read anything about the quality of public defenders? If not, here's a recent article:https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/our-public-defender-...

What public-interest agencies are you talking about? As far as I can tell, the ACLU, EFF, and a handful of others provide no-cost support for a negligible portion (way less than 0.1%) of civil cases.

With any luck, you have a group legal plan.

I am also troubled by "asset forfeitures". But if you think that makes the US a police state, it's very clear that you've never lived in a real police state.

Note well: This comment is not a statement that everything is fine with police in the US.

They are also protected by the goodwill of the general population. Voters in the USA have real power, but by and large believe that delegating that power to law enforcement without any real checks and balances is a good thing. "Tough on crime" wins elections. If America is a police state, it is one imposed more by your fellow citizens than from some dictator on top.

The word you are looking for is kleptocracy

I think you mean other burglaries.

Asset forfeiture is armed robbery, not burglary. Although it wouldn't surprise me if the police do that too.

Registration is open for Startup School 2019. Classes start July 22nd.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact