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Without a warrant, the New York Police Department (NYPD) burst into the home of Gerald Bryan in a nighttime raid in March of 2012. Police punched through walls, tore out light fixtures and seized $4,800 in cash. Gerald was suspected of distributing drugs and taken into custody. One year later, the case against him was dropped. But when Gerald tried to get his money back, he found that it had been deposited into the pension fund for the NYPD.
Under civil forfeiture, someone does not have to be convicted, or even charged, with a crime, to have their property confiscated. Plus, under New York state forfeiture law, the burden of proof is placed on the property owner. In other words, owners have to prove their innocence in court.
The NYPD does not keep public records of how much money or property it seizes through civil forfeiture, nor does it publicly account for how that money and property is spent or allocated. Based on the sheer volume of cases that the department pursues, experts estimate that the amount the NYPD has taken from New Yorkers over the past decade is well into the millions.
That isn’t too surprising, if disheartening. According to the Institute for Justice’s report, “Policing for Profit,” across New York State, district attorneys and task forces obtained almost $70 million in cash from forfeiture in 2008 (the latest year available).
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