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Groups push lawmakers to require more transparency from police when cops seize property

May 21, 2015

Credit Michigan State Police

The right-leaning Mackinac Center hosted a forum Wednesday featuring the ACLU and Democratic state representative Jeff Irwin.

“Maybe it’s a little strange to have someone like myself appear at a Mackinac Center event,” Irwin told the crowd gathered, “but I think it actually just speaks to the power of this argument.”

Police are not required to report why they seize a person’s cash or car or even if the person was charged with a crime.

According to a report compiled by the Michigan State Police, more than $24 million dollars in assets were seized from Michigan residents in 2013.

“But there’s really nothing that requires them to report. There are agencies that don’t report. And also the report isn’t very helpful. Right? It doesn’t tell us whether the individuals were convicted. It doesn’t tell us whether the individuals were ever charged with a crime or what that crime was,” Irwin said.

ACLU attorney Dan Korobkin explained a case he’s handling where a woman has to pay a $1,800 bond to try to get her $18,000 from an insurance settlement that police seized in a raid.

“This idea that you can’t get justice or due process or a fair hearing until you pay more money, on top of the money that’s already been taken from you, this bond requirement has got to go,” he said.

Many police agencies and prosecutors argue seizing property is a useful tool to crack down on crime.

But State Representative Jeff Irwin says he knows of numerous cases where an innocent person’s property is taken.

“And because our reporting requirements are so weak, we don’t know which of those stories are real,” he said.