Thou shalt not steal. — Exodus 20:15
The most important duty elected officials have is to protect the rights of the people they serve. In order to protect those rights, everything government does, including in the arena of law enforcement, needs to be as transparent as possible. That is why I am calling for more transparency on civil asset forfeiture and why I believe the Bloomington City Council needs to pressure both the mayor and the police department to be more transparent.
Back in February, I submitted several questions to the Bloomington Police Department regarding civil asset forfeiture. One of those questions was how much money and property is confiscated on an annual basis through civil asset forfeiture. The BPD refused to answer that question, citing those figures as “investigatory records.” This is not an acceptable answer and is one area where the city council should demand more transparency.
Obviously, the results of an active, ongoing investigation can be sensitive information and disclosing certain information publicly can compromise the results of that investigation. No one wants to see the guilty go unpunished because too much was disclosed. But we also live in a constitutional republic where due process rights and private property rights are critical to our liberty. In order to ensure government is not trampling on those rights, we need government (including law enforcement) to be transparent.
I simply do not buy the argument that disclosing how much money and/or property is confiscated on an annual basis would compromise ongoing investigations. One does not need to specify how much money or property was taken from a specific person in order to disclose the total amount of money and property confiscated. The city council should act in their role as watchdogs to pressure the administration to be more transparent.