Hopefully, the Des Moines City Council and the Des Moines Police Department will follow the recommendation of the marijuana enforcement task force that was formed earlier this year as part of an anti-racial profiling ordinance.” (See link to Register reports below.)
Included among the list of recommendations are passing ordinances that make enforcement of the possession of marijuana for personal use the lowest enforcement priority for the police, and if allowed by state law, to legalize or decriminalize marijuana for personal use.
It appears clear that our marijuana prohibition laws are enforced unfairly against black folks, In every case, a conviction dramatically damages a person’s future prospects for work, housing, education, and more. All because of our prohibition laws criminalize peaceful activities that do not infringe on the rights of any other person.
Our Iowa state legislators need to get a clue from other states and at least decriminalize the peaceful use of marijuana. It will not only reduce systemic racism, but it is the morally right thing to do.
It may be good for the City of Des Moines to have a policy that, “…requires all city employees to perform their duties without regard to race, ethnicity, gender or other characteristics…”, but that does not replace the need for a anti-racial-profiling policy specifically for the Des Moines Police Department.
For better or for worse, conscious and unconscious bias exist in most human beings. It is in our nature to look for norms, patterns, averages, etc., and to apply what we think we know to our everyday situations. But police officers are rightfully placed in a very special position: we allow them the legal use of force. So, police officers especially need to make sure they treat each person as an individual, presumed innocent, following due process procedures.
In this case, the City of Des Moines should give the Des Moines Police Department clear policy regarding what police officers can and cannot do as it relates of acting on their “feelings” or “hunches” in any given situation. Profiling or pretextual stops based on race should be prohibited. Suggestions by Iowa CCI, the ACLU of Iowa, and the NAACP should be given serious consideration as part of developing the policy.
Link to related articles in The Des Moines Register:
The Des Moines Register recently ran an editorial about how the Iowa State Patrol appears to be targeting out-of-state cars travelling through Iowa to try to find assets to seize using our current civil asset forfeiture laws. (See link below.)
One obvious possible reason why out-of-state cars might be targeted is that it would help keep seized property flowing to law enforcement agencies, while keeping political heat off of this problem. Out-of-state drivers don’t vote in Iowa, and they don’t have an elected Iowa representative to call to complain.
It is clearly unjust that we allow our government to take property from people who are not charged with a crime, and then put the burden of proof on them to prove their innocence in order to get their property back. It is hard to believe that this does not violate both our Iowa and U.S. Constitutional right to due process. Also, in many cases, law enforcement agencies get to keep the property that they confiscate! This clear conflict of interest should not be tolerated.
Last year in the Iowa Legislature, a bill was introduced in the Iowa Senate that would have put a stop to this injustice, but it never got out of committee. The Senate Judiciary Committee chair, Steven Sodders of State Center, never acted on the bill, so it died in committee. He is a deputy sheriff in Marshall County. If you would like to see end to civil asset forfeiture in Iowa, contact Senator Sodders and let him know we need and expect his help this year.
Thanks to the Register and Kathie Obradovich for the essay about the failure of our federal legislators to include reform of civil asset forfeiture laws in the Criminal Justice and Corrections Reform and Corrections Act of 2015. (10/8/2015 – “Will Justice reform leave out forfeiture abuse?”)
It really is terrible that we have laws that allow law enforcement officers to confiscate property without charging any person for any crime, and that allow law enforcement agencies to keep most of what they take. Once property is seized, the burden of proof shifts to the owner of the property to prove that the property was not used in any crime…. guilty until proven innocent.
As you reported, reforms were introduced in the Iowa Senate last spring, but missed a committee deadline. What you did not report was that the committee that failed to move forward with those reforms is chaired by Steve Sodders from State Center, who is a Deputy Sheriff in Marshall County. As the Register printed last spring, (4/16/15, “Panelists: Reform Iowa civil forfeiture law”) Sodders thinks the answer is to have the State of Iowa pay for an attorney to help owners try to get their property back. He did not express any interest making reforms that would bring back the presumption of innocent until proven guilty, or that would correct the conflict of interest problem that allows law enforcement agencies to keep much of what they seize, or that would provide for public reporting of all assets seized.
Bills that would right these wrongs will likely be introduced again next year. We all must put pressure on the Iowa Legislature to get these reforms passed.
Today, the Des Moines Register reported on the decision by the grand jury in Polk County to not indict the Des Moines police officer who shot an unarmed man. (8/27/2015 – “No charges against D.M. officer” – see link below) You reported that the prosecutor, Polk County Attorney John Sarcone, said, “This was the eighth fatal police shooting reviewed by a Polk County grand jury since 2007, all of which ended with jurors choosing not to indict.”
Since the grand jury process is highly secret, we don’t know what facts or arguments were presented to the grand jury. With what we do know, it is hard to imagine that there should be no charges whatsoever brought against the officer.
The prosecutor and the police depend on having a trusting and friendly relationship. Because of this relationship, the prosecutor clearly has conflict of interest . The prosecutor could quite easily have a significant bias towards not indicting police officers. Actually, that is why we have the grand jury system – to have the decision whether or not to indict be made by unbiased citizens. But the system is flawed. The entire process is secret, and is led by the prosecutor. It is not difficult to imagine that the prosecutor could exert significant influence on the grand jury to not indict, and then be off the hook politically because he did not make the decision. Did that happen in this case? We will never know because of the secrecy of the process.
We should either make the process public and transparent, or get rid of the grand jury system for police shootings.
Thanks to the Sunday Register (3/29/2015) for its exposé of the abuses occurring in Iowa under civil asset forfeiture laws. (Sunday Register 3/29/2015) Taking people’s money and other property without charging them with a crime violates the principles of due process of law and innocent until proven guilty.
Allowing law enforcement officers and prosecutors to keep the money that they confiscate creates a clear conflict of interest and is a corrupting influence. The examples given in the Register report show law enforcement officers have become more interested in collecting money than stopping crime. We need to stop this corruption and abuse.
SF467 has been introduced in the Iowa Senate. It would allow forfeiture only as part of a criminal charge against the owner, and it would require any forfeited property to be turned over the general fund of the county or state. If passed, this law would go a long way toward curbing these abuses. Contact your Iowa Senator and urge them to move this bill forward to passage.
Link to Register article: http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/investigations/2015/03/28/iowa-forfeiture-system-legal-thievery/70600856/
Thanks to The Des Moines Register for exposing the unconstitutional and abusive use of civil asset forfeiture laws against U.S. citizens by the Iowa State Patrol, county attorneys, and the Iowa Attorney General. Civil asset forfeiture laws allow law enforcement agencies to take people’s cash (and other property) without charging them with a crime! Then, citizens must prove they are innocent in order to get their money back.
Most amazing is the fact that the three law enforcement agencies that are involved get to split the money! Whatever they can keep becomes a slush fund they can use to expand their budgets without legislative approval. The conflict of interest is clear. As a result, rather than arresting people and charging them with a crimes, our law enforcement officials make getting cash and other assets an end unto itself.
This is another example of how the failed drug wars have gotten out of control. Our police have become militarized trying to fight the drug wars. People who have never been violent or used any force against anyone have been made into criminals. Then, because of their “criminal record”, they can’t get jobs and are prohibited from participating in benefits of our society.
We need to put a complete halt to civil asset forfeiture and we need to stop making criminals out of people who do no harm to others. Ask candidates if they will help put an end to this travesty of justice.
Link to Register article: http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/crime-and-courts/2014/09/30/iowa-state-patrol-cash-seizure-illegal-gamblers-say/16511135/