Tag Archives: corruption

Why would Columbia Police Department delay the execution of 57% of SWAT search warrants between 2007-2010?

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.

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Virginia sheriff under investigation for embezzlement from asset forfeiture funds

From WAVY in Virginia:

The Middlesex County sheriff is being investigated by police for allegedly using county and state funds for himself.

Search warrants were filed in Chesapeake court this week for a BB&T account and a Wachovia account, one belonging to the Sheriff Guy Abbott’s forfeiture account, the other to what appears to be his personal account.

“I would hate to think that people that are suppose to protect us would go ahead and do something like that,” said Middlesex County resident Dee Bookins.

Investigators searched bank statements, signature cards, deposit slips and checks dating back 10 years. They found evidence to support allegations of embezzlement and misuse of county and state funds.

Those funds were allegedly allocated for personal use by county officials, namely Abbott.

Evidence included receipts from the Middlesex County sheriff’s office asset forfeiture account and reports Abbott sent to the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services.

There were also 21 itemized Mastercard statements between 2000 and 2002.

Virginia’s forfeiture laws are pretty loose. The Institute for Justice’s recently published 50-state report on forfeiture laws awards Virginia a D- and notes that Virginia lets 100% of forfeiture proceeds directly go to law enforcement; over most of the last 15 years this has sent an average of $7.2 million to law enforcement each year. Most of this money, if not all, has negligible civilian oversight, and it is often too easy to hide money in different funds, property, and other tangible assets that directly benefit individual law enforcement officers. It’s nice when you get to use the company car; it’s sweet when your work gives you under-the-table cash bonuses, SUVs, and unregulated expense accounts if you can keep making seizures of property from people who are too poor or politically weak to defend themselves in court.

Cross-posted at Americans for Forfeiture Reform.

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You can’t make this up: Missouri police officer caught in drug sting, was “replacing evidence”

From the Lincoln County Journal (Lincoln County is 60 miles northwest of St. Louis):

The fallout following the arrest of a Winfield Police officer on a drug charge continues with the suspension of a police chief and investigation into cases involving the officer.

On May 21, 2010, investigators with the Lincoln County Narcotics Enforcement Team took a Winfield police officer into custody for attempting to purchase two grams of powder cocaine.

Net Team Investigators learned that officer, Bud Chrum and his brother, Tony Chrum, were attempting to purchase the cocaine in Troy city limits.  According to the information they received, the cocaine was being purchased to replace some cocaine Bud Chrum had apparently removed from police evidence.  According to the person providing the information, Tony Chrum would be the one to actually make the purchase.

the story continues:

Tony Chrum made arrangements with his brother over the telephone for them to meet at a Troy area apartment complex under the close supervision of the narcotics investigators.  When Bud Chrum arrived at the pre-determined location to accept the cocaine from his brother, the narcotics investigators quickly moved in.  Bud Chrum, who was in his police officer uniform at the time, immediately recognized one of the investigators and told him that he was only purchasing the cocaine to replace evidence he accidentally destroyed.  He was taken into custody without incident.

Don’t they have SWAT teams for this kind of thing?

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Corruption at YDA and a Modest Proposal for Change

I was hoping to finish the political blogging from this weekend’s Young Democrats of America national convention and get back to economics blogging, but there are too many issues that I feel are unresolved. The most pertinent ones right now are the rather credible (in my eyes) allegations of voter intimidation, outright bribery, and other mechanisms of vote fraud that came out of the election.

The basic problems are these. Voting at the YDA elections happens via an open ballot as per DNC bylaws. What this allows is for state chairs to functionally control their voting delegates: there were numerous allegations of blatant voter intimidation that came to my ears. The basic scenario is that state presidents can control their delegates by holding things like the plane ticket home as leverage.

There are two solutions. The first is obviously moving from an open ballot to a secret ballot. However this involves changing the DNC national bylaws, which might not be politically possible given the resources of those concerned with YDA elections. The second is to introduce some kind of structural change to the election process itself, where the people (state presidents) who are in charge of their delegation’s votes can’t control their delegations. Allowing state presidents to be the ones signing off on the legitimacy of the votes cast by their delegates allows them to control those votes and auction them off to the highest bidder. In this election, that’s precisely what happened; I know personally that a political deal was struck that cut Missouri’s votes in half and I have heard very credible allegations that the delegation from Washington D.C. received $2,500 to vote one way.

So what kind of structural change would fit the bill? I have a suggestion: use Twitter to conduct elections. The basic framework is that you have delegates register their twitter names when they register for the national convention. As candidates come up for election, all eligible candidates tweet their vote using a randomly selected hashtag. Now we are looking at an election where votes are not filtered through state presidents and a system where vote fraud is a lot more difficult. You can only count votes from twitter handles that have been registered, so you can ensure that the people casting the votes are the people who registered. And you make all votes 100% transparent, which massively increases the amount of leverage that any single entity has to have over voters to control their votes.

There are a couple objections. First, it’s possible that outside parties could try to hijack the hashtag and spam votes. However, the use of hashtags that have been randomly selected immediately prior to the vote makes this difficult. And the fact that Twitter is searchable means that you could create a simple program to filter out only the votes cast by registered delegates. Second, not everyone has Twitter; but that’s not a truly meaningful criticism, since signup is easy and free and it takes less than a minute to learn how to vote.

This obviously wouldn’t work or necessarily be appropriate for real governmental elections, which are conducted by secret ballot. But YDA isn’t a governmental organization and it isn’t even that big so it’s not plausible to imagine anyone having the resources to make a serious attempt at rigging the vote or crashing Twitter. If Twitter got involved as an independent third party and and set up/managed the back end of open elections, we can eliminate all the problems associated with the status quo and the massive conflict of interests involved. This might even be a viable revenue stream for Twitter.

I will posting more emails from Martin Casas and the St. Louis Young Democrats bearing out my allegations of misconduct and corruption in that organization either today or tomorrow.  I don’t want him to be able to continue to operate in ways that are unethical if not blatantly illegal and hopefully my small corner of the internet will be a place where that can happen.

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