Category Archives: Blog

Civil Asset Forfeiture: Policing for Profit in Columbia, Mo Is Grinding To A Halt

In these tough economic times, how do law enforcement officers find the cash for nifty gadgets such as new militarized swat vehicles or fancy, little video cameras?

Why, they steal it.

Principally, civil asset forfeiture tactics have been abused by law enforcement agencies across the nation for decades – and it’s only getting worse.

A 2000 reform act passed by Congress seems to have had little effect, as recent stats by the Department of Justice show $4.22 billion was seized through federal forfeiture laws in 2012, up from $1.7 billion in 2011 – an increase of a whopping 248 percent.

While national nonprofits and law firms  dedicated to fending off such cash-seizing techniques continue to grow, and investigative news reports exposing the fraud pile up, the process continues unabated.

Here’s how the racket is unfolds.

Criminals are presumed innocent until proven guilty, but there’s a caveat. The feds can seize the assets of an individual for the mere suspicion of wrongdoing. Called “civil asset forfeitures,” they’re in stark contrast to criminal asset forfeitures, which allow police to seize cash and property from those convicted of a federal crime.

While criminal asset forfeiture cuts legal muster, civil federal forfeiture laws are heralded by many as entirely unconstitutional. Meanwhile, examples of wrongdoing on the part of law enforcement are easily found.

Typically after such seizures, local, state and federal law enforcement agencies split the loot, using legal loopholes that allow them to collude, although they call it “equitable sharing.”  Local agents are temporarily deputized as federal ones, which helps them get around civil asset forfeiture laws and procure the assets.

Take, for example, a case out of Nashville chronicled by NewsChannel5 in late April. An Indian-American New York businessman on his way to purchase a convenience store with a large sum of cash lost $160,000 after a routine traffic stop in December 2011.

Ultimately officers were forced to return the money – but more than a year later, and after the man proved it was for businesses purposes, not drug trafficking. In essence, he had to prove his money’s innocence. And the feds still kept $5,000 of it as part of a settlement.

Peter Strianse, a former federal prosecutor, told NewsChannel5 “he often hears from people who’ve had $10,000 or more seized through federal forfeiture laws — and he has to tell them to kiss their money goodbye.”

“It becomes just a real losing proposition,” Strianse said. “You are going to spend three times that amount of money to try to get the $10,000 back that was taken from you.”

In another example, as reported exhaustively by Keep Columbia Free (KCF) among others, the Columbia, Mo. Police Department was able to recently purchase a $200,000 armored police vehicle—a military style SUV—with the help of $36,505 in civil asset forfeiture funds.

Perhaps some of that $36,505 came from Kevin Bay, the owner of a Columbia apparel store called BoCoMo Bay. According to the Columbia Daily Tribune, Bay was arrested on suspicion of carrying unlicensed firearms and selling synthetic marijuana, but the prosecutor in the case dropped all charges; it was, at the time, not illegal to hold and sell synthetic marijuana.

Unfortunately, however, the dropped charges came after Columbia police seized hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of property from his house. He asked for it back. Local authorities refused. Bay’s case remains entangled in federal courts.

What’s worse about the Columbia case is that, any asset forfeitures – whether civil or criminal – are required under the state constitution to be given to the state’s schools and public universities – not to police departments to purchase military-style tanks.

But the following may illustrate police motives, their zeal to seize such assets.

In November 2012, Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton’s told the Columbia Police Review Board that civil asset forfeiture is “kind of like pennies from heaven — it gets you a toy or something that you need is the way that we typically look at it to be perfectly honest.”

KCF and civil asset forfeiture reform advocates Americans for Forfeiture Reform (AFR) want to keep the Columbia Police Department from getting its pennies from heaven.

As many readers of this blog know, KCF has kept vigil over the issue of civil asset forfeiture, both in Columbia, Mo and around the country since its inception in 2010.

Progress on civil asset forfeiture reform has been long and grinding, but it looks like the tide starting to pick up speed, building into a crescendo.

As I write this blog, AFR is preparing an ordinance that would ban the practice of civil asset forfeiture in Columbia, Missouri. Furthermore, AFR maintains that if Columbia’ City Council is not receptive to the ordinance, then the group plans on taking the issue directly to Columbia’ citizenry via a ballot initiative. The initiative will, presumably, appear on next year’s ballot.

Here is the ordinance that will be presented to the Columbia City Council. Read over it.

 petition

Read this, this and this to find out more about civil asset forfeiture.

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Action in Syria could lead to moral crisis for US

With the Obama administration beating the drums for another war of choice on Syria, it is time for Missourians of good conscience to take notice.

The specter of weapons of mass destruction is once again being trotted out to frighten us into going to war, based on a hodgepodge of YouTube videos, the conflicting reports of various factions in Syria’s civil war, and intelligence of dubious origins. But is there really a case for this war that can justify the stark human and moral costs, the high likelihood of future blowback and escalation, and the grave risk of widening a narrow civil war into a global conflict, which would follow from such an attack? That case has yet to be made effectively.

This much is certain; once the gears of war are set in motion, the inherent costs and dangers will be virtually impossible to avoid.

Even limited strikes on Syria will no doubt come with a significant human toll.  Beyond the combatants, collateral damage inflicted on civilians by raining Tomahawk missiles and airstrikes down is inevitable, particularly if highly volatile and intrinsically hazardous chemical weapons stockpiles are targeted.

Moreover, the weight of recent research into the effects of military interventions into other countries’ internal conflicts strongly suggests that a United States attack on Syria would likely lead to an escalation of atrocities against the civilian population by a cornered Assad regime: exactly the opposite result that the Obama administration claims to be seeking.

Going ahead with military action against Syria in the face of growing opposition in Congress, widespread disapproval of the American people, and discord among the international community would constitute a moral crisis for the United States.  Lawlessness replacing Constitutional checks and balances, autocracy replacing the consent of the governed, and international isolation replacing respect for international norms and the laws of war. A nation that we have historically upheld as one of laws and limited government will have become just another callous, cynical power player on the world stage of realpolitik.

After decades of American military intervention in the Middle East, the phenomenon of blowback has become all too familiar. Adding fuel to the fire of volatile and deadly conflicts that plague this region has come back to bite us again and again, with both innocent Americans and the civilian populations of the region suffering the brunt of the United States’ recurrent policy blunders.

Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is not the definition of a prudent and realistic foreign policy.

Escalating international tensions over the possibility of unilateral military action by the Obama administration pose a far greater threat to the American people and the entire world than anything Assad’s embattled regime could possibly muster. To risk touching off a broader war in the Middle East would be to endanger millions of innocent lives. Such a conflict could involve regional powers known to possess substantial nuclear arsenals, or potentially even spark a direct conflict between the United States and other world powers.

The stakes are high, and clearly the burden of proof is on those urging a headlong rush to war. No amount of credibility or national prestige can justify the deadly game President Obama is playing with the lives of the people of Syria, the United States, and the world.

Jim Chappelow: president of Keep Columbia Free

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Tony St. Romaine’s Insatiable Lust for Other People’s Money

Columbia, Mo Mayor Bob McDavid, after some clamoring from Columbia citizens, came out in support of a 20 cent increase in personal property tax—which is another tax proposal in a seemingly never ending litany of tax proposals, the most recent of course being the 3/8 sales tax increase to pay for an $11 million 911 call center, a facility that is projected to have an annual cost upkeep of nearly $9 million—as a conduit for the hiring of an extra 35 Columbia, Mo police officers.

 

Mayor McDavid, after sensing the animus against a personal property tax increase, and noting the Columbia Police Officer’ Association’s (CPOA) assertion that a $3.5 million tax increase is simply not necessary to stem Columbia’s criminal element, made the snap quick, but perspicacious decision to split the scenery at Bugsy’s beanery; in short, he backed off of his initial support for the tax increase, breaking the news of his about-face on an August 13 Facebook post:

                 

                    “Based on comments made by the Columbia Police Officers Association, I no longer

                     support an increase in property tax to fund an increase in police staffing.”

 

One would think that the sensible minds on the City Council would follow suit, but such thoughts, apparently are unfounded. 

 

As if to buck reality, and to solidify the “most unpopular city managers in Columbia” title, Tony St. Romaine has decided to draw a line in the sand on behalf of tax increases. He is throwing his full weight and support behind the personal property tax increase. Somebody has to stick up for unwanted, unwarranted tax increases, no?

 

Romaine, some might remember, was the same city manage who backed universally disliked policies and ideas like the red light cameras, the use of $3 million in city reserve funding to buy up property for private developers (the worse kind of corporate cronyism), and the erection of an opulently expensive 10 story parking garage downtown (given the sobriquet, Garagezilla), which is more popular among those wishing to commit suicide (two people, in one year’s time, have leaped to their death off of the structure) then it is among the general public.

 

So the CPOA and the mayor are on the same side. They both believe that extra police officers, and the expense that comes with them, can easily be paid through funds filtered through the 911 sales tax and from the cutting back on overtime that current police officers receive; the increase in police force would, necessarily decrease the amount of forced overtime that police officers have to log every day, giving the Mayor and City Council the requisite money to pay for a extra police officers. 

 

The bottom line—according to Mayor McDavid, the CPOA and liberal Missourian columnist and professor George Kennedy, who oftentimes cuts vigorish on behalf of tax increases, is that a personal property tax increase is unnecessary at best, and a terrible idea at worse.

 

What is more, Romaine, and Mayor McDavid before sobering up, appears more than willing to default to the tax increase position on seemingly every issue of importance. If it is not his wanton adherence to a 911 sales tax, then it is his absolute, full-throated love for tax increases—regardless of iteration. A lover of zapping personal income from Columbians, Romaine, based on superfluous facts, is hell-bent on taking other people’s money purely for the purposes of funding future 10 story, 15 story and 20 story parking garages and 25 more red light cameras.

 

As a side note, Columbia residents are tired of the tax increases, and the rumors of tax increases. They want security and safety, but they are not willing to have their personal property or money pilfered and tossed down a cosmic bunny hole in order to keep up appearances. Give them real solutions, not reflexive tax increase proposals.

More on St. Romaine’s past antics HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE

Christopher W.

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CIA Drone Strikes Kill More Civilians than Terrorists

Foreign Policy contributor Micah Zenko fleshed out a few interesting tidbits of info culled from internal, top secret intelligence reports.

In short, as should be obvious by now, the drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan and Somalia, which have increased 200 fold since the Bush administration’s use of them, are not on the up and up. And President Obama, at least in regards to stifling the flow of information, appears to have a lot in common with Richard Nixon.

Here are some of the most provocative data highlighted by Zenko: ”Yet, for all of the historical accounts and professed concerns over the CIA’s detention and extraordinary rendition program, which involved “136 known victims,” it is time for an accounting of the CIA’s drone strikes, which have killed between 3,000 and 4,000 people in Pakistan and Yemen.”

*Indeed, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, you would have had to double and triple the number of CIA detention and rendition victims in order to equal the number of victims of drone strikes–both al Qaeda targets and civilians. For the record, there have been more civilian and “other” deaths by drone strikes than there have been of al-Qaeda combatants.

and:

“Finally, based on the Obama administration’s patterns of behavior, the Department of Justice will assuredly target Landay and his sources for leaking classified information. While the DOJ has refrained from plugging the many selective leaks by anonymous administration officials that praise the precision and efficacy of drone strikes, it has sought more criminal prosecutions of leaks in Obama’s first term than during all previous presidential administrations combined. Like almost everything else we know about targeted killings, these latest revelations come from an investigative journalist who served the public interest by reporting new information on a highly controversial policy — a policy that the government absurdly insists remain secret.”

If President Bush was a war criminal for his use of secret CIA detention centers, rendition, interrogation procedures, and extralegal, constitutionally dubious foreign policy adventures, was does that make President Obama?

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Missouri College Republicans (and protesters in general): Denied Access to Obama Speech

My article in the College Fix about Missouri’s College Republicans being denied access to an Obama speech at Warrensburg, Mo struck a cord in the Cave of Winds. In light of the kerfuffle, which emanated from Missouri, I thought it prudent to republish the article on Keep Columbia Free’s blog.

The issue does not fall into the parochial left/right political spectrum–far from it. In point of fact, it is about freedom of expression, it is about being able to exercise your constitutional right to freedom of speech without being shunted off to the hearth were your words and protestations will die, never having hit ears.

Indeed, previous presidential administrations–Bush 43 and Clinton to name just a couple– have, like President Obama earlier this week, created “free speech zones” at universities as a means of shutting down political dissent.

And moreover, at least in regards to President Obama’s security detail this past Wednesday in Warrensburg, Mo, “public free speech zones” are becoming quite chic among, not just Missouri universities, but universities from all around the country.

“Ten College Republicans were dubbed a security threat and refused admittance to President Barack Obama’s speech at the University of Central Missouri on Wednesday.

Despite the fact that the students had tickets to the event, security personnel turned them away at the door to the recreation center where Obama gave a speech on economic policy, telling the group it wasn’t about their politics but the president’s safety, State Treasurer of the College Republicans Courtney Scott told The College Fix.

The students, some of whom donned Tea Party T-Shirts and others who wore patriotic or Republican-inspired clothing, had protested the president earlier in the day on campus, but had put away their signs and said they were ready to simply listen to Obama when security shut them down – and even told them to leave the vicinity and stay several hundred yards away from the rec center.

The students had waited in a long line and under the hot sun to wind their way to the front of the line two hours in advance of Obama’s scheduled 5:30 p.m. remarks. Still, they were rejected.

“It just didn’t make any sense,” Scott told The Fix. “A lot of us traveled several hours to watch the speech. We were very disappointed not to be able to attend.”

The small group of College Republicans were confused as to why such extreme security precautions were directed at them – but not at the 2,500 other audience members who were granted admission to the event, Scott said.

The speech, the start of Obama’s national tour to tout his latest plan to revive the sluggish national economy, drew a crowd to the university’s recreation center, creating a crowded, stuffy and stifling environment, some observers said.

The intense heat of the day, coupled with the late arrival of Obama, prompted some audience members to suffer heat exhaustion – a few even fainted. Plenty of people left the venue early, prior to Obama’s speech, generating seats to be filled regardless of whether the students had tickets.

The students’ protest earlier in the day was a peaceful one, consisting of holding political speech signs and talking to passersby throughout the morning, Scott said. They were asked to protest at the “public speech area” on campus, not anywhere near the rec center. They were not allowed within eyesight or earshot of people who were waiting in line.

The Mizzou Republicans were among about sixty protesters, half of whom were college students, who had voiced concern Wednesday over Obama’s economic policies in the wake of the country’s ongoing recession.

Some of the signs called for capitalism, others illustrated discontent with Missouri’s 16 percent unemployment rate among college student youth, and the increasing share of national debt students are saddled with year by year.”

Christopher W.

 

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City of Columbia Targets Gays and Students

Op-Ed from Stanley Diaz — President, Columbia Apartment Association 

STUDENTS and GAYS UNFAIRLY TARGETED BY CITY

Students are the main target of the new Over-Occupancy Disclosure Ordinance.  In January of this year, the Columbia City Council voted, in effect, to remove your right to privacy as granted by the 4th Amendment of the United States Constitution.  It also discriminates against gay couples. The ordinance says no more than three unrelated adults can live in an R1 residence but what constitutes a related family?   Are two gay couples two “families” or are they four unrelated adults?

In 2012, there were only 14 cases of over-occupancy being prosecuted by the City.  According to the homeowner associations who spoke in favor of this ordinance, the problem is almost always with students.  Over-occupancy has been against the law in Columbia for many years, but because of this handful of complaints, the City made it a law  (Columbia, Missouri City Code Section 22.184(c)) in January 2013 that all 25,000 rental unit occupants must sign a disclosure document that allows any “police officer or city inspector investigating any code violation” to see “all lease, rental payment, tenant information”.

“Tenant information” means your social security number, birth date, and more.  Note that the law says, “ANY code violation”, not just over-occupancy complaints!

I doubt that there is a single building in town that does not have one code violation.

For instance: a cracked switchplate cover, too many leaves in the gutter, a vine or tree too close to the building, missing smoke detector batteries, peeling paint, etc. are all code violations.  Is it right that 25,000 rental units, or about 50,000 adults should be subjected to this kind of treatment because of a couple of dozen complaints?

The Columbia Apartment Association does not condone  true over-occupancy violators.  They should be investigated and prosecuted when necessary.  But this disclosure ordinance is a violation of federal law, is insulting to all renters and discriminatory to Gays and Lesbian couples.  Also note that only Renters are required to fill out the Disclosure form, not homeowners.  Read the ordinance form yourself and see.

If you care about your rights or the rights of MU students in the years to come, then call the City of Columbia at 573-874-7222 or email them at ward1@gocolumbiamo.com, ward2@gocolumbiamo.com, ward3@gocolumbiamo.com, ward4@gocolumbiamo.com, ward5@gocolumbiamo.com, ward6@gocolumbiamo.com.  tell them to rescind the Over Occupancy DISCLOSURE Ordinance.

This issue comes up for vote again on July 15th please contact the city before that date.

Stanley Diaz — President, Columbia Apartment Association

Read what KCF had to say when the ordinance was introduced HERE

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School Loans Are Exploding! What Is The Answer? Free Market Capitalism, Of Course.

Students across the U.S. are demanding Congress act quickly to keep interest rates on student loans from doubling by July 1. To that point, protestors from Campus Progress, a student organization, gathered together to protest and demand Congress pass legislation averting interest rate increases.

In response, legislators are falling over themselves to assuage the fear and loathing of America’s college-age generation. For his part, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) pleaded with Democrats in the Senate to work with House Republicans to stop student rates from increasing apace.

Citing the weak U.S. economy, and slow job growth for college graduates, Boehner, in hopes of pushing the issue back on the plates of Senate Democrats, said that “ . . . the House has passed a student loan bill to make sure that interest rates on students doesn’t double on July 1st. The Senate had a couple of show votes last week, but I’m hoping that they’re going to be willing to sit down with us and the administration to resolve this issue. We’ve done our job, it’s time for the Senate to sit down with the House to make sure that students aren’t harmed…by the lack of work in this Congress.”

While Boehner is taking the state manipulated stance, Representative Justin Amash (R-MI), in a June 6 interview with Campus Reform, posited that the free market could ameliorate high tuition rates more effectively than Congress. “What we really need is a more market oriented system to take government out of the system, to encourage competition, to encourage schools and the loan industry to compete for the assets, to compete for their business,” Amash told Campus Reform. House Republicans appear to be, at the very least, inching their way toward Amash’s view: House Republicans approved a bill that would allow interest rates to rise or fall from year to year, which is a markedly different than keeping interest rates arbitrarily low, or freezing them outright. But while Republicans are pushing for more sensible, market-based interest rate setting, they still have not, as a party, addressed the public subsidization of school loans.

The question then becomes: Should the state shrink away as Amash suggests, or should the state have a hand in fudging school loan interest rates and subsidizing college tuition? The law of supply and demand lends Amash’s contention more weight. Indeed, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, throughout the last 50 years—which has seen an exponential increase in federally subsidized school loans, beginning with the G.I Bill during the latter half of the 1940s and flowing through the 1960s—tuition rates have increased by a whopping 945 percent, dwarfing the inflation rate of 193 percent during that same span of time. The fact that tuition rates increased by nearly 10 times that of the inflation rate suggests that manipulation in the market, keeping interest rates artificially high and loan subsidization, had a hand in causing price increase.

Economist Daniel Lin points out that government subsidies, which are meant to decrease the price of a degree, through grants, tax credits and student loans actually increase the price of tuition. The demand for college degrees has exploded precisely because of federally subsidized loans; if a product—education in this example—is made cheaper, the consumption of that product is subject to increase, leading to higher demand of the product. This leads to, what economists call, a negative feedback loop, whereby, policy makers are inclined to increase public funding of school loans even as those loans increase the prices they are meant to make affordable.

What is worse, universities and colleges have no compunction to decrease tuition rates because, frankly, they have no shortage of fannies in seats—that is, school enrollment, due in large part to government created demand for college education, is already filled to the rafters. Instead, they use tuition paid for by students to build, build and build; they build multimillion dollar parking structures, expensive arenas and sports medical facilities like the $35 million Ohio State University Jameson Crane Sports Medicine Institute—paid primarily by public funds.

And so it goes. Government subsidies in the form of grants, government backed student loans and tax credits are making college more expensive, not less. College students and their parents, instead of demanding policy makers cap interest rates or pardon federal loans, should be demanding answers as to why college tuition is out of control. But so long as there are politicians willing to doll out goodies, products like a college education will continue to become pricier and pricier.

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