Paul Jacob

We’re quickly approaching the season of giving, as it is often put, so it’s well worth considering the uncomfortable truth that, for some people, it’s always the season of taking.

And I don’t mean “accepting gifts.” There will always be people in need, and such folk will always have to take more than they give, if only for a time. I don’t really have any complaints about this. It’s just life. It’s the way of the world. Everybody needs help sometimes.

But by takers I mean folks who take without asking, who take without ever being offered anything. These people are dangerous.

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And they appear to be growing in numbers.

They are in Wayne County, Michigan, anyway.

And they aren’t the criminals. They are the police. According to a report in The Detroit News, Wayne County’s “Sheriff’s Office, which helps run the prosecutor’s forfeiture unit, took in $8.69 million from civil seizures in 2007, more than four times the amount collected in 2001. The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office gets up to 27 percent of that money.”

We read — and watched news reports — about these “civil forfeiture” infamies decades ago. You may have thought such obvious abuses had been corrected. They haven’t been. Though the practice waxes and wanes from one jurisdiction to another, and regarding one set of crimes to another, the truth of the matter is that police departments around the country regularly steal from the citizenry.

How is it done?

Say you help out a neighbor, taking her to the bank. A police officer spies your neighbor making eye contact with a passing motorist. From this the officer surmises that your neighbor was soliciting sexual favors for money. Prostitution. The harlot! Lock ’er up! Throw ’er in jail!

That’s bad enough. Talk about flimsy evidence -- eye contact, indeed. But the police don’t stop there. They seize your car, since it was engaged in a suspect activity.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.