Boston Police Department used confiscated funds to hide purchase of surveillance technology from city officials

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from cops-are-honest-individuals-who-follow-the-rules department

Confiscation of assets is just cops going to buy things they want. The analogy – sparked by statements from Sean McMurty, head of a New Jersey County confiscation unit – works on several levels. McMurtry encouraged the cops to grab the items they wanted or needed.

Mr. McMurtry made it clear that the confiscations depended heavily on the needs of law enforcement. In New Jersey, police and prosecutors are licensed to use seized cars, cash, and other property; the rest must be auctioned. Cell phones and jewelry, Mr McMurtry said, are not worth the trouble. Flat screen televisions, however, “are very popular with law enforcement,” he said.

Mr McMurtry said his handling of a case is sometimes determined by departmental wish lists. “If you want the car and you really want to put it in your fleet, let me know – I’ll fight for it,” Mr. McMurtry said, speaking to law enforcement officials on the video. . “If you don’t let me know, I will try to resolve the issue very quickly through a settlement and get some money for the car, pay off the towing cost, get some money back. ‘money for it. “

These are direct purchases, using the law enforcement version of the five-finger discount. Take what you think you can use. Convert the rest to cash.

With cash in hand, cops can once again go shopping (but without discount) for the things they want. Better yet, they can hide those purchases from the public and their surveillance, filling their cupboards with surveillance technology they don’t want the public to know about, and making purchases that would never be approved by those who hold the rest of the money. their purse strings.

We have seen this happen (obviously months or years after the fact thanks to the secret source of funds) in some of the largest police departments in the country. The Chicago and New York City Police Departments used secret funds to purchase surveillance technology. In the case of Chicago, the secret slush fund was fueled by confiscations. In New York, it was a fund that the city had expressly authorized the NYPD to spend as it saw fit.

Now it’s the Boston Police Department that gets caught… well, not in the act, but, I guess, after the fact (?), Thanks to local reporters.

[I]In 2019, the Boston Police Department purchased the device known as the Cell Site Simulator – and exploited a hidden pot of money that kept the purchase out of public view.

A WBUR investigation with ProPublica found that elected officials and the public were largely kept in the dark when Boston police spent $ 627,000 on this equipment from money seized in connection with alleged crimes.

There are a lot of funds to work on. Law enforcement and state prosecutors benefit directly from confiscations, encouraging cops to make more foreclosures and district attorneys to initiate as many cases as possible. What is supposed to drain organized criminal enterprises of much-needed money is more of a slush fund for both entities. District attorneys can buy whatever they want, and cops can make their own purchases for controversial technology.

According to documents obtained by WBUR and ProPublica, the only interaction the city had with this Stingray purchase was to confirm that there was enough in the forfeiture fund to purchase it. When contacted for comment, Boston city officials had no idea the Boston PD had purchased a cell site simulator.

The Boston PD obviously knows he made this purchase but he is not speaking. No comment from the BPD spokesperson. No comment from any PD official.

And this kind of secrecy will remain normal, at least for the time being. There is no mandatory report on the spending of forfeited funds and nothing obliges the Boston PD to execute all purchases beyond the city’s oversight, regardless of the funds it spends. A proposed ordinance would change that, requiring explicit permission from the city to purchase surveillance equipment, but it’s not yet a law.

But a better solution would be to end the practice of civil forfeiture of assets, which allows law enforcement to take money from suspected criminals, but without having to prove that the person who held the money was actually engaged in criminal activity. An acceptable stopgap would be to take the seized money out of law enforcement, as state representative Jay Livingstone suggests, and redirect it to a general state fund less likely to be abused or the source of secret shopping.

For now, law enforcement agencies are still free to spend unofficial confiscation funds for whatever they want. Until this incentive is removed, confiscation programs will still be heavily abused.

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Filed Under: asset forfeiture, boston, boston police, civil asset forfeiture, surveillance, transparency


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