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Report reveals police seized over $15 million through civil forfeitures

Joe Ross

Police seized over $15 million from persons suspected of a crime in 2016, according to a new report from the Michigan State Police.

The report is the first from the MSP after lawmakers moved to create more transparency around property seizures.

Civil asset forfeiture allows state and local police departments to seize cash, cars, and even homes from people suspected of a crime.

Supporters of asset forfeiture argue the practice helps take down criminal enterprises.

But civil rights groups warned that the practice was too easily abused and in 2015 lawmakers passed a bill requiring police departments to report what was being taken.

Dan Korobkin is with the ACLU of Michigan. He said not a lot of people even know about the practice.

“Unbeknownst to a lot of people there is a system in this state and in many states in this country where even if you’re not guilty of anything the police can take your property, sell it, and keep the proceeds for their own use.”

Korobkin said the practice is incentivized because the seized property is often sold to pad police department budgets.

“And that really creates all sorts of perverse incentives for law enforcement agencies to focus on taking away the most valuable property instead of keeping people safe and stopping crime.”

Of the roughly 15 million dollars seized by police departments over 12 million became proceeds for state and local police departments.

Korobkin said he hopes increased scrutiny of the practice will reduce abuses.

“I think that one of the things this report will show is once police agencies know that they are being watched, that their activities have to be transparent to the public, a lot of their abuses will come to an end.”

Officials with the Michigan State Police would not comment saying the report spoke for itself.