Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Law enforcement agencies receive a lump of coal for abusive practices

“Policing for profit” draws Tennesseans’ ire in Beacon Center’s annual poll 

NASHVILLE – The Beacon Center of Tennessee today announced that Tennesseans have overwhelmingly chosen the 23rd Judicial District, and Cheatham, Dickson, and Humphreys Counties as the recipients of the 2013 Lump of Coal Award.

The Beacon Center awards this dubious distinction annually to the person or group in Tennessee who, more than any other during the past year, acted as a Grinch to Tennesseans by bah-humbugging the principles of liberty and limited government.

The judicial district and three counties have become infamous for their use of a controversial tactic known as “policing for profit.” Abusing the state’s civil forfeiture laws, the agencies have begun seizing cash, vehicles, and other personal items in traffic stops, forcing the property owner to prove that the cash or property was not related to criminal activity. Innocent victims often spend months attempting to recoup seized property, sometimes to no avail.

An in-depth documentary by Nashville’s NewsChannel 5 revealed troubling facts about the practice, such as substantially more traffic stops on westbound Interstate lanes—where cash proceeds from drug sales frequently flow—while drugs traveling in the eastbound lanes were reportedly allowed to pass unfettered. Officers were also caught on camera admitting that they had little evidence that property was associated with a crime before seizing it anyway.

After the Beacon Center narrowed the list of offenders down to four finalists, the recipient of the Lump of Coal Award was chosen directly by Tennesseans in an online poll. The four law enforcement agencies received the most votes for the not-so-coveted prize, beating out Metro Nashville Public Schools, the Department of Labor & Workforce Development, and Hemlock Semiconductor with 40 percent of the vote.

"Tennesseans have sent a clear message that ‘policing for profit’ will not be tolerated," said Beacon CEO Justin Owen. "This practice turns the Constitution on its head, and it’s time for lawmakers to heed the outcry of law-abiding citizens who want their property rights protected from this abuse, while still preserving the authority of law enforcement to target criminals."

State legislators have indicated that they will study this issue and offer possible reforms to the state’s civil forfeiture laws when they reconvene next month. Earlier this year, the Beacon Center published a policy brief on the practice, which can be found at http://www.beacontn.org/2013/03/the-perils-of-policing-for-profit/.

The Beacon Center of Tennessee’s mission is to change lives through public policy by advancing the principles of free markets, individual liberty, and limited government.

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