New Jersey lawmakers have proposed legislation to use confiscated cash and other items as funding sources to hire, recruit and train minority police.
Lawmakers from New Jersey have proposed an innovative solution to the police’s diversity issue by using cash confiscated and other assets to hire, train, and even hire minorities in the police.
The concept aims to do some good by using the widely-disliked policy, dubbed asset forfeiture, which permits the government to seize property associated with criminals, and not necessarily return the items. For instance, in New Jersey, for example, the police have the power to confiscate properties worth less than $10,000 and cash that is less than $1,000.
The critics of the bill claim that dirty money, even when used to fund the cause worthy of it, is still dirty.
New Jersey Republican Antwan McClellan introduced the bill in January. Two additional legislators, Assembly Bill 649, would allow local attorneys general or prosecutors within the state to use the funds forfeited to improve the diversity of the state’s law enforcement, being one of the more frequently requested and widely requested supported reforms for police. According to current laws, the state accepts funds from the forfeiture of assets to increase the capacity of a department for investigating, prosecuting and resolving crimes. The bill will amend this law to allow the money to be used for other causes.
“If the money comes through the local community, then why should it not be utilized in your community?” McClellan told VICE News. “When police try to make use of the money to fund community projects, they must go through some hurdles with the attorney general’s office. However, they don’t need to go through those hurdles when purchasing military equipment. Therefore, I decided to try to make it easier for them.”
For New Jersey, the application procedure to use the forfeiture funds other than the direct use of law enforcement could take weeks or months, as per McClellan.
Law enforcement officials have confiscated millions of dollars in the U.S. In 2018 both the federal government and 42 states, along with Washington, D.C., received $3 billion in civil forfeiture, as per the Institute for Justice. New Jersey saw collections of $10.8 million in the same year.
Based on the law, police do not always require proof that someone has committed a crime to preserve possession of the item, which critics claim makes the procedure a state-approved theft.
Although many states have some forfeiture of assets on their books, and at most, 36 of them have attempted to curb the practice. Within 16 states, including Utah, Virginia, California, and New Jersey, for example, the person must be found guilty before police can confiscate their property or cash.
Only four states – Maine, Nebraska, New Mexico, and North Carolina- have completely abolished the practice.
Police are also accused of stealing the money to militarize their equipment or enjoy lavish lives in their units. Police have bought armored personnel transporters fancy banquets that honor their personnel and even the latest coffee machines, as per the 2014 Washington Post investigation.
“What it (the New Jersey bill] aims to achieve, which is to finance these worthy programs, is fantastic,” said Alexander Shalom, the attorney who is the supervising senior and the director of Supreme Court advocacy for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey. “The problem is that the funding source is not ideal. Simply because it’s for be used for a different purpose does not mean that the process of getting the funds any less damaging as it would be otherwise.”
The two times McClellan has suggested the idea. The first time the idea was proposed, back in the time when McClellan was a newcomer within the local Assembly, He said that he could not present the argument properly. It now seems to be more likely to become law.
On Monday, the Law and Public Safety Committee approved the bill by seven votes in favor and one vote against it. The bill would require 41 votes from the state’s 80-member Assembly and 21 from the 40-member state Senate before being placed at the governor’s desk.
The bill also focuses on the ongoing struggle in the national arena between those who would limit the power of police by cutting the budgets of police officers and those who believe that more money can be made to address the system’s shortcomings. In 2020, most counties in New Jersey had committed to increasing the amount of money spent by police before the close in the calendar year.
However, despite New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s pro-police reform stance and diversifying the state’s police force as a top priority under his leadership, some believe that the state should pay the cost of diversity initiatives.
“If budgets for law enforcement were lower, but I don’t believe there’s evidence to back the notion the fact is, the departments can say instead of buying an armored personal vehicle, we’ll invest some more funds into initiatives, such as hiring individuals of color to join police forces,” Shalom said. “They’re refusing to.”
While McClellan stated to VICE News that no one has reached out directly to his office regarding this bill yet, McClellan is willing to make improvements.
“The positive thing about legislation is that it can be modified and improved,” he said. “So when someone brings ideas to me that makes more sense and has an improved idea, I’ll be happy to listen.”