Brennan David at the Columbia Tribune writes:
Columbia’s SWAT team served 106 narcotics search warrants between Jan. 1, 2007, and May 11, 2010. The Tribune, through an open records request, received 99 of those search warrants; the others were considered closed records for various reasons.
Of the 99 SWAT narcotics search warrants granted by the Boone County Circuit Court to Columbia police, officers executed 43 percent of them within hours of being issued. Of those, 65 percent resulted in one felony arrest, and 18 percent resulted in misdemeanor arrests.
But the percentage of warrants producing a felony arrest dropped drastically to 37.5 percent when investigators waited one day before serving the search warrant. In those cases, 50 percent produced misdemeanor arrests.
“This does not surprise me,” Dresner said. “I think the nature of drug sales is that it is a very immediate transaction. For consumers and dealers, once there is a product available, it travels fast, and sales occur very quickly.”
What isn’t being said here is very important. It’s that the police have financial incentives to delay the execution of a warrant, particularly when illicit substances are present. They’d rather serve the warrant when they might find a suspect in possession of large quantities of cash, which they can seize through a civil procedure without the trouble of obtaining a conviction. This is particularly true when cannabis exclusively is involved; it is not a dangerous substance, and complaints relating to its distribution are usually related to the amount of traffic, not the hazard of the plant itself. The proceeds of these seizures can be retained for the Columbia Police Department’s budget through a loophole that allows the federal government to appropriate these seizures and disburse cash and equipment back to the Columbia Police Department. In the last ten years, the Columbia Police Department has received roughly $210,000 from the Department of Justice’s Equitable Sharing Program, though that figure does not capture the full amount of money benefiting law enforcement free of legislative stipulation and civilian oversight. The Missouri Constitution (Article 9, Section 7) mandates the proceeds of these seizures be sent to education, but with the involvement of the federal government and the laxity of legislative oversight this constitutional requirement is circumvented with ease and negligible oversight.
In other words, the Columbia Police Department has for years been pursuing low-level crimes with SWAT raids not for the purpose of making this community safer, but for the purpose of obtaining funding for all the things their budget doesn’t give them. As the United States Appellate Court for the Fifth Circuit said in 1992:
As was obvious at the oral argument of this appeal, each member of the court was deeply disturbed by the actions of the federal and state agents in appropriating Scarabin’s money — candidly acknowledged by counsel for the DEA — actions that would have constituted illicit money laundering if perpetrated by private parties. We were even more distressed by the revelation that those activities were not merely condoned but were actively advocated and supported by officials of the DEA in positions to make and implement policy.
Money laundering indeed. I want to point out that civil forfeiture came into the law enforcement toolbox during the 1980’s, when the government started taking on the Mafia and other large, sophisticated organizations. We forgot, however, that when we went beyond the Constitutional protections against unwarranted search and seizure that our law enforcement stopped acting like law enforcement and began behaving like the criminals they sought to prosecute.