ACTION ITEM – What do we want to know about civil asset forfeiture in SF? Your input needed!

Following up on my participation at the last two SF Police Commission meetings, I just spoke with Police Commissioner John Hamasaki, and he asked me to send him a list of the questions to which we’d like answers.

Based on my raising the issue in public comment and he and commissioner Petra DeJesus re-raising it in response to those comments, it looks like what’s going to happen is that the SFPD will be tasked with giving some kind of presentation on the topic of forfeiture at a Police Commission meeting, to let people know how it works. This has not been scheduled yet, but the commission president (Malia Cohen) expressed a willingness to schedule it.

I want to try to ensure that it’s done in a manner that reveals the details of what’s going on and how harm reduction measures can be implemented. Here are the questions I’ve thought of, but please let me know if you think of others, or better ways of asking any of these:

• How much money and property is being seized in San Francisco? From San Franciscans? (These are 2 different categories; some SF residents may be victims of forfeiture in other jurisdictions, and some non-SF residents may be victims in the city.) What info does the SFPD have on each category of forfeitures? When SF residents are victims of federal or other forfeiture outside SF, is the SFPD notified or do they otherwise have access to this info? Are the Feds required to tell the SFPD or anyone else about their forfeiture actions in SF or concerning SF residents? If not, is there a way to compel them to provide this information?

• Who have been the specific victims of forfeiture and what is their contact info? (Names/addresses/email/phone numbers)

• Are data being collected about victims' ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, or other demographic info?

• What are the details of their cases? [Were they charged with anything? If so, what in each case? How much money/property was taken from each of them? What happened to that money/property? Which agencies and personnel were involved? (names and contact info)]

• Have any SF businesses or other institutions been victims of forfeiture? If so, which ones, under what circumstances, and what was taken from them?

• Are data being collected about the types of cases that are generating forfeiture proceeds? (How much of the distribution proceeds are coming from drug cases, tax cases, etc.?)

• How far back do SFPD records of forfeiture go? (We want to see all the records and data.)

• What have been the annual totals for forfeiture disbursements to the SFPD? In as much specific detail as possible, how has this money been spent?

• Has the SFPD ever received distribution of forfeiture proceeds in the form of property? If so, which property, and what happened to that property?

• What percentage of forfeiture victims had their property returned to them? What percentage requested the return of their property?

• Is there anything stopping the SFPD from returning their share of forfeiture distribution proceeds to the victims?

• What cooperation, information, or assistance is SFPD providing to federal or other agencies that might assist them in engaging in forfeiture? (e.g. are SFPD officers driving federal officials around locally, tipping them off about property to seize, giving them files on people, etc.?) If officers were doing these things on the down low, would it come to SFPD management's attention, and if it did, how would it be handled? Have any officers been found to be working with the Feds? If so, which ones?

• Which federal agencies are involved with forfeiture in SF or from San Franciscans? How much money/property do each of them confiscate? How much of that money/property goes to the SFPD? 

• Do any other local agencies or bodies receive forfeiture distribution funds or property? If so, which agencies or bodies and how much?

• Are any state or regional / multi-jurisdictional agencies involved with forfeiture in SF or from San Franciscans as well?

• Where can people access all this information about forfeiture online?

• Can the Police Commission contact the victims of forfeiture and ask them if they have any questions or concerns about their cases? Did they understand their rights and how to seek a return of their property? Were they able to afford to seek the return of their property? Is the process to seek return of property clear and straightforward, and are victims given adequate time to respond?

• Can the Police Commission direct (or if it cannot issue a directive, then request) the SFPD not to accept forfeiture distribution proceeds, or to accept them and return them to the victims?

• Can the Police Commission direct (or if it cannot issue such a directive, then request) the SFPD to report regularly on data concerning forfeiture, and to include data in this category in crime stat reports by the chief or other police officials?

• Can the Police Commission direct (or if it cannot issue such a directive, then request) the SFPD to deny all cooperation to federal or other agencies with regard to forfeiture actions?

• Can the Police Commission direct (or if it cannot issue such a directive, then request) the SFPD to compile and maintain any of the information asked about in these questions that it is not already compiling and maintaining, and publish this data online in a clear, easy-to-understand format in a readily discoverable place on the department's website without any accompanying spin or editorializing intended to justify the forfeiture or make it look less offensive?

• Can the Police Commission direct (or if cannot issue such a directive, then request) that the SFPD provide assistance to the victims of federal or other non-SFPD forfeiture in getting their property back from the confiscating agency/agencies?

Love & Liberty,

((( starchild )))