Seminars on civil asset forfeiture offer police officers tips on seizing property from suspected criminals. Don't bother with jewelry (too hard to dispose of) and computers (“everybody's got one already”), experts counseled. Do go after flat screen TVs, cash and cars, especially nice cars, the New York Times reports. In one seminar Harry Connelly, city attorney of Las Cruces, N.M., called them “little goodies.” Connelly described how officers in his jurisdiction could not wait to seize one man's “exotic vehicle” outside a local bar.
Asset forfiture allows the government, without ever securing a conviction or filing a criminal charge, to seize property suspected of having ties to crime. The practice, expanded during the war on drugs in the 1980s, has become a staple of law enforcement agencies because it helps finance their work. Under a Justice Department program, the value of assets seized has ballooned to $4.3 billion in the 2012 fiscal year from $407 million in 2001. Much of that money is shared with local police forces. The practice of civil forfeiture has come under fire amid negative press reports and growing outrage among civil rights advocates, libertarians and members of Congress, who have raised questions about the fairness of the practice, which critics say runs roughshod over due process rights.