A couple of years ago, the Denver Police Department (DPD) was under fire for a spate of excessive force complaints. They wanted to change their image, so they began a massive public relations campaign, ramping up spending from $599 in 2011 to $136,783 in 2013.
The “media affairs unit” is made up of very well-paid employees who push their message in social media such as Facebook and Twitter. Last year the DPD spent $450,000 on six employees in the media team, which is far more than six cops on the beat would make.
However, an investigation by Denver7 ABC found that the DPD has been using funds derived from civil asset forfeiture to pay for much of this propaganda campaign. This may constitute a violation of policy, as those funds are only supposed to be used for equipment and training.
According to the report more than $120,000 from that fund was used to buy equipment for DPD’s media relations unit, including an Apple desktop editing system, a MacBook Pro computer and even spent $22,000 developing an app for iPhone and Android.
That’s not all. They spent $2,460 to pay for entries into a local Emmy competition. The funds for this bizarre act were requested under “police training,” even though there were no seminars or instructional time.
Detective Nick Rogers, head of Denver’s police union, has something to say about that:
Winning an Emmy is a self-promotion, self-gratification type of situation that has nothing to do with … getting better at your profession.
We’re spending that kind of money on videos that don’t drop the crime rate. [Videos] don’t solve burglaries and robberies. That’s our mission and I think we lost sight of that.
When Denver7 asked Police Deputy Chief Matt Murray about funding, he initially lied and denied the money came from civil asset forfeiture—until they presented him with the records. Murray then claimed that the campaign “helps us do a better job” in “reaching out” to the community.
The insidious practice of civil asset forfeiture (CAF) is alive and well in Colorado. The scheme, which takes places across most of the U.S., allows law enforcement to seize cash and assets from people on the mere suspicion (often fabricated) of a crime, and they can keep this loot even if the person is never charged with a crime.
In some cases, the person can get his or her assets back, but the legal fees and headache of dealing with authorities are often too much to make it worthwhile. In Colorado, though, a loophole “allows law enforcement to keep confiscated cash even after charges are dismissed.”
An untold number of abuses have taken place using CAF, such as Joseph Rivers, who lost his life savings of $16,000 to the DEA while he was traveling to Los Angeles to pursue a music career. The Mesa County Sheriff’s Office in Colorado sent 20 lawyers to a ski resort conference using CAF funds.
According to the Institute for Justice’s national report on civil forfeiture, Policing for Profit, from 2000 to 2013 Colorado law enforcement agencies collected nearly $12.8 million in state forfeiture funds and an additional $47.7 million through the Department of Justice’s equitable sharing program. Given such large sums, it’s little wonder law enforcement is blocking State Senator Laura Woods from even getting a hearing on a bill that requires reporting of seizures of private property and law enforcement’s expenditures of forfeiture proceeds.
Chalk up the Denver Police Department as another abuser of the injustice of civil asset forfeiture. The fact that it is using these seizures for a massive propaganda campaign makes it all that much more offensive.
Justin Gardner writes for TheFreeThoughtProject.com