By Larry Eggert
The recent Another Voice article by Ronald Fraser, “How New York cops prey on private property,” cries out for rebuttal.
Being a former police officer, I was unhappy with the tenor of the article. The author makes it appear that the police are engaged in self-serving, systematic seizures of the hard-earned property of innocent citizens without just cause. Further, his opinions are based on academic research, not on the real-life issues law enforcement faces on a daily basis.
As such, I would like to offer an alternative perspective from someone who has worked in law enforcement for the past 36 years.
As your readers well know, we are in the grip of an unprecedented countrywide opioid epidemic that has caused the deaths of thousands of our fellow citizens. As such, law enforcement needs all available tools to fight this epidemic, and asset seizures are a key component to that fight.
In my experience, the vast majority of assets seized by law enforcement have come from the proceeds of illegal drug sales, and money fuels the drug trade.
By seizing assets, law enforcement takes away profits and limits the power of the drug dealers to expand their trade. Also, that seized money is used to equip our police officers with safety equipment such as body cameras, bulletproof vests and other necessary tools to fight the drug trade without burdening the taxpayers with the added expense.
The observation that all seized assets be placed in the state’s general fund also seems to suggest there is lax oversight of the seizure process that “undermines the public trust.”
However, in my experience the judicial and federal oversight of the overall asset forfeiture process and specifically the Equitable Sharing Program is rigorous and comprehensive. Also, both state and federal courts require a significant level of proof before they will allow assets to be seized.
I have been involved in a number of criminal investigations where money or property was recovered and later returned to the owner after judicial review because we could not meet the necessary level of proof to allow for its seizure.
In his commentary, Fraser states, “a substantial portion of these amounts were taken from completely innocent New York residents who cannot afford the legal representation needed to get their money and assets back.”
I would ask him to provide some level of proof to justify this “substantial portion” comment. In my 36 years of police work, which have included literally hundreds of drug arrests and asset seizures not only at the local level but also working with county and federal drug task forces, I have never been witness to an innocent person having his property taken.
One-sided opinions such as those expressed in Fraser’s article only fuel the continuing negative public perception of the police, which affects our ability to build a positive relationship and effectively protect and serve our communities.
Larry Eggert is a retired chief of the Lockport Police Department.