Florida Cops Policing For Profit

It sounds like a plot ripped straight from Grand Theft Auto V.  Police conduct “reverse” sting operations, posing as drug dealers to lure buyers with promises of cheap cocaine.  Once the deals go down, cops bust the buyers, and using state and federal forfeiture laws, seize their cash and cars.
For years, police in Sunrise, Fla. have conducted these lucrative reverse stings.  Between 2011 and 2012, Sunrise police made over $5.8 million in forfeiture proceeds, according to The Sun-Sentinel, which broke the story.  The city now has a whole parking lot packed with seized cars.
Incredibly, cops would usually have at least one kilo of bona fide blow when meeting the buyer.  The deals themselves happen at surreally suburban locations, going down at TGI Fridays, Sam’s Club or Panera Bread; Miami Vice this ain’t.
While forfeiture proceeds have been used to buys guns and gear for the Sunrise Police Department, funds have also been funneled towards overtime pay for officers and to pay off confidential informants.
A dozen undercover officers have collectively earned $1.2 million in overtime pay since 2010.  One sergeant collected more than $240,000 in overtime during that same period.
Meanwhile, $1.2 million has been given to 79 informants, in part to arrange even more reverse stings.  In fact, just one informer, “reportedly a beautiful, buxom brunette,” has been paid more than $800,000 for her assistance with 63 sting operations.  Per sting, she earned anywhere from $1,000 to $85,000.  All together, that femme fatale helped Sunrise police seize more than $5 million.
As if the millions being made weren’t alarming enough, there are many other reasons Sunrise’s forfeiture program should be concerning.  First, many of the buyers are far from drug kingpins.  One of the alleged buyers arrested was a man who had been unemployed for more than a year and had filed for bankruptcy earlier that year.
Second, police there aren’t actually taking drugs off the street, unlike regular sting operations.  Since many of the buyers do not work for major drug trafficking organizations, seizing their cash is only making them poorer, not crippling drug cartels.
Third, some of the Sunrise cases have been civil forfeiture proceedings.  Unlike criminal forfeiture, under civil forfeiture, property owners do not have to be convicted or charged with a crime to permanently lose their property.  It’s not limited to Sunrise either.
A woman in Philadelphia lost her entire home to civil forfeiture.  A mom-and-pop grocery store in Michigan had the entire bank account seized—more than $35,000 worth—even though they have done nothing wrong. Represented by the Institute for Justice, they’re fighting back in federal court.
Finally, Sunrise police have conducted joint missions with the Drug Enforcement Administration, which granted them wider jurisdiction.  By teaming up with federal agents, Sunrise police can bypass state laws. Continue reading

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