Photo via Pixabay
Photo via Pixabay

Several small Los Angeles County cities seize large amounts of cash and cars using a controversial federal law that allows them to confiscate property even when owners aren’t charged with a crime, according to an advocacy group that promotes decriminalization of drugs.

The seizures by police in South Gate, Beverly Hills, Baldwin Park and other relatively small cities dwarf those made by much larger police departments in California from 2006 through 2013, according to the Drug Policy Alliance.

Pomona reaped more than $14 million, exceeding assets collected in the considerably larger cities of Oakland, Long Beach, Fresno and Bakersfield combined, said the report, which is expected to be published Tuesday morning, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Law enforcement agencies keep up to 80 percent of property seized under what’s known as civil asset forfeiture, and several cities appear to rely on the revenue at a time of dwindling police budgets, potentially creating pressure on cops to make more seizures, according to the alliance, which has long been critical of the practice and has called for reform, The Times reported.

The criticism comes amid mounting concerns nationwide that forfeiture leads to abuses, with reports of police taking cash, cars and even homes based on little or no evidence of a crime. In federal court, owners who seek a return of their seized property face the burden of proving it was not the product of criminal activity.

Some states have already taken steps to reform local forfeiture laws.

California requires a conviction to justify keeping seized assets of up to $25,000. For larger amounts of money, police must show by “clear and convincing evidence” that the property was connected to drug sales or manufacturing — a higher standard than the “probable cause” required under federal law. In addition, police departments receive 65 percent of seizures under California law compared with up to 80 percent under federal law.

Because of such reforms, the Drug Policy Alliance contends, local law enforcement agencies in California are skirting the state’s stricter rules by using federal law to seize assets.

—City News Service

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