In Oklahoma, law enforcement agencies across 12 counties took $6 million in cash over a five-year span.
Less than half of the money came from property owners who were charged with a crime.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma analyzed records regarding cash seizures that took place in a dozen counties along Interstate 40, which bisects the state. According to the ACLU of Oklahoma’s findings, law enforcement agencies seized $6 million in cash from property owners through civil asset forfeiture from 2009 to 2014. Of the money seized, just $2 million came from property owners who were charged with a crime.
The ACLU of Oklahoma’s findings come as the state prepares to debate reforms to its civil asset forfeiture laws. Civil asset forfeiture is a tool that gives law enforcement the power to seize property and cash if they’re suspected of being connected to a crime.
In recent years, law enforcement agencies have come under fire for “policing for profit,” which describes a trend of police using civil asset forfeiture to pad agency budgets.
Over a five-year span, there were 319 cash seizures in the 12 counties the ACLU of Oklahoma examined records for. Charges were filed in 205 of the cases. The group could not find charges related to the remaining 114 seizures.
In only one county, Seminole, criminal charges were filed in each forfeiture case.
State Sen. Kyle Loveless, a Republican from Oklahoma City, introduced legislation that would prohibit law enforcement from seizing property and cash unless the property owner has been convicted of a crime. The Republican’s bill also requires proceeds from forfeitures to go into the state’s general fund, instead of to the law enforcement agency conducting the seizure.
Law enforcement is fighting the bill. At a hearing on the proposed reforms earlier this week, officials from the law enforcement community warned that the changes would hinder their ability to curb money-laundering and drug-trafficking.
Darrell Weaver, director of the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drug Controls, criticized the legislation, calling it an “attack” on law enforcement.
“We could sit here all day and see across the nation, sometimes even in our own state, it’s almost like the authority of law enforcement has been lost, and there’s many, many attacks going on,” he said at a hearing in Tulsa. “And it seems to me this would fall right in.”
Here’s how much cash law enforcement in the 12 counties along Interstate 40 seized, and how many criminal charges were filed.