L.A. police agencies accused of excessive seizures

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pomonapdThe city of Pomona has found a controversial way to pad its budget.

Between 2006 and 2013, Pomona reaped more than $14 million from confiscated property – more than the cities of Long Beach, Fresno and Oakland combined.

That’s according to the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group that promotes decriminalizing drugs. The Alliance has a new report that says a handful of L.A. County cities are abusing a federal law known as civil asset forfeiture.

The law gives police departments significant leeway to seize assets they believe are connected to criminal activity. People whose property was seized have to go to federal court and prove that it was obtained illegally, whether they are charged with a crime or not. Critics say police agencies have violated people’s civil rights to boost their funding.

In addition to Pomona, the Drug Policy Alliance says the cities with the most asset seizures include Beverly Hills, Baldwin Park and South Gate.

The report comes amid a nationwide push to rein in forfeiture abuses. A U.S. Senate committee held a hearing on the issue earlier this month.In January, U.S. Atty. General Eric Holder restricted local agencies from using federal law to seize cash or assets from suspects with a warrant or criminal charges. Holder said he was concerned that police were using the law to justify unnecessary stops and seizures.Holly-Mitchell_t580

Meanwhile, in California, state Senator Holly Mitchell has introduced a reform bill.

Not everyone agrees that reform is needed, though. An official with the California Narcotics Officers’ Assn. says civil forfeiture is an important weapon that allows police to hit drug organizations where it hurts, in the wallet.