Ballot measures aim to limit police forfeitures

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Orchard Lake and Sylvan Lake have two of the smallest police forces in Michigan, but voters there will be asked to curb their powers to confiscate property associated with crime.

 

Ballot measures in both communities would require a criminal conviction before police could pursue a civil forfeiture of property related to the crime. Any money seized from criminals also would have to be used to fund local road repairs, under the proposal.

 

Police across Michigan and around the country have used civil forfeiture to seize the assets of drug dealers and other criminals. Critics argue the standards are so lax that police can take property without ever charging its owner with a crime.

 

“It’s really counter to what the United States stands for, innocent until proven guilty,” said Scott Tillman, national field director for the Liberty Initiative Fund, a nonprofit group that claims as its mission “holding government accountable, fighting crony capitalism and protecting civil liberties.”

 

► VOTER GUIDE: See where candidates stand on issues important to Michigan

 

Tillman said he targeted the two communities not because of abuses there, but to raise awareness of the issue.

 

“Once people know about it, they have hard a time believing it happens in the U.S.,” he said.

Orchard Lake Mayor Norm Finkelstein said his city hasn’t pursued any civil forfeitures in recent years.

 

“If passed, it would be meaningless because it conflicts with state law,” Finkelstein said. “Forfeiture proceeds can only be used as the law allows.”

 

Tillman acknowledges that state law may prevent seized money from going toward road repairs, but said the rest of the proposal, especially the requirement of a criminal conviction, can stand.

Other ballot measures in Oakland County include:

 

Franklin Village: Voters are asked to approve a $15-million bond proposal for street repairs. It would cost the owner of a $200,000 home about $320 a year for a maximum of 15 years. Voters also face 10 ballot questions related to charter amendments, including one that would require a vote to connect to a municipal water system. One measure would amend the charter to say that the village records are subject to the Michigan Freedom of Information Act, though that law already applies to all communities in Michigan.

 

Lake Orion Village: Voters are asked to approve a measure that would allow the village to levy up to 1.4 mills in additional taxes for police service. The measure would override the Headlee Amendment and would cost the owner of a $200,000 house about $140 per year.

 

Oxford Village: Voters are asked to amend the village charter to make all village records subject to disclosure under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act. All municipal records are already subject to the FOIA, whether local charters acknowledge it or not.

 

Pontiac: Voters are asked to approved a 1.5-mill tax increase to fund youth centers. The measure would cost the owner of a $100,000 house about $75 annually.

 

Wixom: Voters are asked to approve a new 3.5-mill tax to fund police, fire, public works and parks and recreation. The tax would cost the owner of a $200,000 home $350 annually.

 

Contact John Wisely: 313-222-6825 or jwisely@freepress.com. On Twitter @jwisely.