The Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission should prohibit the Police Department from seizing money and property from citizens who are not arrested for any crime, the Wisconsin Justice Initiative said.
"That is not a legitimate law enforcement activity," WJI Executive Director Gretchen Schuldt wrote in a letter to the commission. "That is theft."
Both state and federal law allow police to seize money and property police say is involved in criminal activity. Police participate in both kinds of seizures.
The Police Department is proposing to allow officers to grab up property or money in federal seizures without making an arrest if they have "reasonable suspicion" that the seized goods are proceeds from drug trafficking and are worth more than $1,000. Under current policy, the value must be at least $5,000, according to Fire and Police Commission documents.
The commission at its July 25 meeting delayed action on the proposed policy change to allow the public a chance to weigh in.
Schuldt, in her letter, said the commission should review the department's current asset seizure practices and share that information with the public before voting on the proposed policy.
"How many times did MPD seize assets under federal law and how many under state law?" she asked. "How do officers determine whether money is related to drug dealing or any other illegal activity? How many times has HIDTA (or other federal agency) rejected the department’s requested seizures? How many times have those requests been approved? What is the total value of assets seized per year? What becomes of them?"
The commission should also investigate the race and economic status of those who lose their property in police seizures and what those people must do to reclaim wrongfully seized property.
"Must they go to court or are there administrative appeals processes?" she asked. Must citizens hire their own lawyers while the city provides attorneys for the police?"
State law prohibits permanent seizures unless there is a criminal conviction; federal law does not have that restriction.
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