California Forum

Another View: Civil asset forfeiture can cripple criminal organizations

California is one of the top two states into which drug money flows. We trade the title of “No. 1 state” with Texas on a semi-regular basis. That is a fact.

Less factual are the over-sensationalized anecdotes being shared by the proponents of Senate Bill 443, anecdotes that wouldn’t even be impacted by this bill, and claims that local law enforcement continue to engage in federal asset forfeiture adoption, which the U.S. attorney general strictly limited in January (“Close the loophole on unjust civil asset forfeiture”; Viewpoints, Aug. 23).

SB 443 will require a criminal conviction before the assets of an international criminal operation can be taken away. Under SB 443, a drug dealer who has accumulated millions of dollars selling drugs is able to transfer assets prior to conviction, allowing for the larger criminal enterprise operations to continue.

Is there anyone who could seriously argue that that dealer should be able to still keep the dirty money derived from those illegal sales? How about the low-level criminals frequently paid by drug dealers to transport dirty money?

International criminal organization activity creates enormous public safety threats for Californians. In the 2012-13 fiscal year, California state drug task forces disrupted or dismantled 140 drug, money-laundering and gang organizations, arrested nearly 3,000 individuals, rescued 41 drug-endangered children, confiscated 1,000 weapons, and seized nearly $28.5 million in anti-narcotic law enforcement actions statewide.

The ability to forfeit the criminal assets of these international criminal organizations is far more destructive to their operations than sending one or two of their members to prison. A successful civil forfeiture action can cripple a criminal enterprise, assuring that they will be unable to continue to prey on the public.

In addition to permitting the cartels to retain their criminal proceeds, SB 443 will cost California’s general fund, as well as local law enforcement, about $80 million annually in lost revenues. This loss of revenue, however, is secondary to the enormous losses that would severely jeopardize state task force operations. Without being able to seize the assets of low-level criminals, our law enforcement professionals will have an increasingly difficult time tracking down the criminal elite running the operations.

At a time of increasing international crime, the Legislature should reject SB 443 as this bill will lead to the abandonment of state and federal task forces, take away crime-fighting tools from law enforcement and permit organized criminal enterprises to retain their criminally acquired assets.

David Bejarano is the chief of the Chula Vista Police Department and president of the California Police Chiefs Association.