There were salad days for drug enforcement in New Mexico. Used to be that all you had to do was suspect someone of slanging dro or blow, then you’d lock them up, seize their assets and auction them off to the highest bidder. A nice steady stream of green flowed through various policing units in the state. And all was happy for the boys of blue in big sky country.
But wait. Some devious civil rights have crept up to disturb this cozy little Camelot. Officers in New Mexico are worried after their governor threw out the state’s liberal civil forfeiture laws that they might not be able to continue their valiant war on drugs. So, what’s the issue?
The recent signing of House Bill 560 by New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez means that police can’t auction off seized property until the property’s owner is formally convicted by a judge.
This change in fundraising methods for New Mexico PD means departments are having to tighten their belts. But the runts that starve completely in this famine sadly may be the state’s drug task forces.
Farmington Police Chief Steve Hebbe said that he is angry that no police organizations were filled-in on how the downfall of the seizure system would do to them fiscally.
He said that the project has subsidized 25 percent of his operational spending plan—an expected $100k every year, which was utilized to buy surveillance tools and the manpower necessary to “put down” drug cases.
While the police would like the community to accept that the loss of the common resource relinquishment project will prompt an uprising in crime, the truth is that many of these divisions have been using their cash cows to shake down small-timers for piddling drug offenses, not bringing in Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell.
An investigation by the ACLU found that 88% of all pot related offenses were for petty amounts. Some of those resulted in those now gone, but oh-so-lucrative civil forfeitures. Without seizure auctions fattening their budgets, maybe there will be less aggressive behavior towards small-time drug offenders, and less reason to patrol the streets looking for joint-passing hands to slap cuffs on.
Image: a Cadillac Escalade seized and kept by police in Tulsa, Oklahoma (via ExcessiveBail.com)