The Honorable Henry Hyde
Chairman, House Judiciary Committee
U.S. House of Representatives
Room 2138 Rayburn Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Representative Hyde:

As law enforcement professionals, we are writing to support the "Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 1999." We believe that these reforms are needed to strengthen policing by restoring the public trust and confidence in law enforcement. The use of federal civil asset forfeiture by state and local law enforcement has made policing more difficult by undermining the respect for the law, distorting investigative procedures and impeding appropriate civilian oversight.

Civil forfeiture abuse has made policing more difficult by undermining respect for law enforcement. To be effective, police need the support of their community. This support is based in part on a perception that the police are law-abiding, fair and effective, always acting consistently with the Constitution and the American sense of justice. Over the last three decades, our two-hundred year-old civil asset forfeiture laws have been used in a variety of unjust ways and in some cases have been found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

The misuse of civil forfeiture laws has deprived innocent citizens of their property without due process. Suspicion has grown in the public that police officials are willing to abuse their power to seize citizens' homes, cars, businesses and bank accounts by means of obscure, antiquated law. Americans believe in the fundamental requirements of criminal procedure such as indictment, hearing, right to counsel and trial. To deprive any American of these rights raises the public's suspicion of law enforcement and exacerbates relations between police and their community, thereby making law enforcement more difficult.

Forfeiture has become a source of independent funds for law enforcement agencies, undermining civilian oversight.  Local law enforcement agencies are encouraged by the availability of Federal adoptive forfeitures to disregard State laws directing the allocation of forfeiture proceeds to schools, other purposes, or the general fund. This undermines state law and the public’s respect for police.

Even more importantly, the critical tradition of local oversight of police is weakened by supplanting the annual appropriations process. Civilian and legislative oversight of law enforcement agencies is critical to the legitimacy and accountability of police.  Restoring due process to Federal forfeitures helps limit the circumvention of local police funding and restores civilian primacy in the oversight of local law enforcement.

Likewise, the financial lure of civil asset forfeiture may distort investigatory priorities. As was noted in "Policing for Profit: The Drug War’s Hidden Economic Agenda," University of Chicago Law Review (1998), sometimes rather than focusing on the most dangerous criminals or on the most important crimes, law enforcement agencies dependent on forfeiture proceeds will focus investigations on less significant cases in which substantial property or money potentially can be forfeited.  This endangers the public by directing police resources away from the most dangerous crimes. Reforming Federal forfeiture laws will help limit this
potential conflict in police work.

We believe that the "Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 1999" preserves appropriate civil forfeiture authority and balances the proper needs of law enforcement with the demands of the Constitution.  The reforms which you have proposed will make our justice system conform to the fundamental principles of American law – that one is innocent until proven guilty, and that one should not lose one's property without due process of law. By implementing these reforms the public respect for
police will increase, as will the respect for the rule of law.

For these reasons we support the "Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 1999."


Ronald Hampton
Executive Director
National Black Police Association

Joseph McNamara
Retired Police Chief San Jose, California
Fellow, Hoover Institution

Patrick V. Murphy
Former Police Commissioner
New York City, Washington, D.C. and Detroit

Nick Pastore
Former Police Chief
New Haven, Connecticut

Peter Christ
Retired Police Captain
Tonawanda, NY

cc: Rep. Bob Barr
Member, Judiciary Committee
Rep. John Conyers, Jr.
Ranking Member, Judiciary Committee
Rep. Barney Frank
Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Courts and Intellectual Property