New legislation approved by Gov. Phil Bryant requires increased public disclosure when law enforcement agencies seize private property.
House Bill 812, signed by Bryant on Monday, requires the creation of a public database which will list and track assets taken by law enforcement through civil action.
The new law also requires agencies to obtain a warrant within 72 hours after a seizure takes place.
Tupelo Police Chief Bart Aguirre, however, is a little uneasy and believes that transparency may hamper his department.
“I don’t necessarily agree with it. It could hinder us from doing other investigations,” Aguirre said. “By putting this on a website, it shows our hand.”
Weeeeell, Chief, here’s a novel thought: Maybe the Tupelo Police Department’s “hand” shouldn’t be in the business of taking people’s stuff just because they were selling a good the government doesn’t approve of them selling. I understand that we’re probably not going to be looking at widespread decriminalization of certain narcotics, let alone legalization of such, for a long time — if ever. I understand that the laws are on the books and they should be enforced, lest respect for the rule of law be lessened. (Yes, I know. The law is an ass and all that. That’s a perfectly legitimate point but a different discussion.)
But asset forfeiture never should have been recognized as a legitimate tool for law enforcement. Besides the fact that so many people engaged in malum prohibitum activities are the ones getting their stuff taken from them, there’s also the reality of such opening the door for widespread abuses of power against people who weren’t doing anything wrong in the first place, such as the shakedowns of motorists tracing through certain small towns in East Texas. We have a long way to go to even stanch the injustices being done in the name of the War On Some Drugs, but putting some sunlight on what’s being taken is a start. Way to go, Mississippi.