Shocking NYPD Civil Forfeiture Policy chided by Gothamist

Gerald Bryan points out where police damaged his apartment during a warrantless raid. In the course of the search, $4,800 was confiscated from him through civil forfeiture. (Max Rivlin-Nadler / Gothamist)

Gothamist’s Max Rivlin-Nadler recently posted a scathing piece about a little known but apparently often cited NYPD policy known as Civil Forfeiture, in which, when money is confiscated from arrests, lawful or otherwise, it is often kept for the NYPD’s own uses.

Nadler shone a light on Bronx resident Gerald Bryan, whose home, in March of 2012, was unjustly busted into on a warrantless search by the NYPD in the middle of the night.  Officers tore out fixtures, punched through walls, and took the Bryan, 42, into custody on on suspected felony drug charges.  They had also confiscated $4,800 in cash which Bryan says he was saving to take his girlfriend on a cruise.  Over a year later when his case was dropped and he went to retrieve his money, he found out that it was actually deposited into the NYPD pension fund using the civil forfeiture policy.

Of the policy, Gothamist states that it’s “a policy based on a 133-year-old law which robs poor New Yorkers of millions of dollars every year; a law that has been ruled unconstitutional twice.”

Civil forfeiture is a little known but widely used policy, created in 1881, which allows a municipality to seize money during an arrest.   It’s use became more widespread during the 1980’s when jurisdictions around the country began to focus their efforts on organized crime and pursue cases involving money, even if imprisonment wasn’t possible.

This last summer, the policy was addressed in a piece by The New Yorker.  It outlines how cities use the policy to “bolster their cash-strapped coffers by seizing the assets of the poor, often on trumped up charges.”

Nadler continues: “civil forfeiture process has long been used by the NYPD to seize money from those least likely to be able to get it back.”

If money is found on the premise of any type of arrest, civil forfeiture can be evoked,  regardless of the reasons, severity, or eventually outcome of an arrest, lawful or not.  Even more troublesome, such cases are not treated as criminal but as civil, so lawyers are not assigned.  This perfect storm of abuse acts as a double-whammy for poor victims, who are often the target of unjust police abuse, and typically cannot afford a lawyer.

Click here to read the piece.

Click here to read The New Yorker’s investigation

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