Prosecution is the oldest profession

If we told you that the government can seize and sell your property before you’ve been found guilty of anything, you’d say, “No they can’t.” Well, they can in Sacramento. Those chosen for arrest for soliciting prostitution will lose their car quicker than, well, a quickie.

But what if we told you that your personal property can be sold by the police for simply thinking about possibly doing something wrong and doing it in a place where politicians don’t want you to be? Well, despite the absurdity of this, they can.

No assumption of innocence. No waiting for a trial. Just flat out seizure of your car before anything is proven. If you loiter in the wrong place with the wrong ideas, then your means of getting to work or the hospital is gone.

There are so many serious flaws with the Sacramento City Council’s “Beat Feet” ordinance that we hardly know where to begin. But perhaps the biggest problem is that it doesn’t solve the problem.

The ordinance is a response to a vocal part of the community that’s fed up with hookers. The idea is to punish the “johns,” or customers, by making it very expensive to get caught. The flawed thinking is that if you take their vehicle, they won’t come back. Nothing in history has stopped prostitution. But this plan hurts us all by abusing basic fairness and civil rights.

Now the City Council has expanded the ordinance to add that those poor souls caught loitering for the purposes of prostitution (how do they prove that?) can also have their property seized and sold by the thought police. No actual offer of sex for a price, just police thinking that you’re thinking about it.

There is also a basic conflict of interest involved when the police have a financial stake in making an arrest. Most of the proceeds of forfeitures, fines and fees go right back to the police and prosecutors. Many people, especially those with a low-income, can’t afford to hire a lawyer to fight the seizure, so they must pay the cops $700 to get their car back. Isn’t that called extortion?

Loitering is a misdemeanor, and since when do we want someone to lose a car worth up to $30,000 or more for one of those? Then shouldn’t a store owner caught selling cigarettes to a minor lose the store?

Instead of the city taking an unfair swing at people caught in the middle of this problem, why not extend a helping hand? If we must take money from the customers, then reduce the fines and impound fees to make it fair. Don’t seize and sell the car before, or even after, a conviction. Haven’t the police learned that constantly throwing prostitutes in jail hasn’t worked? Start a program for prostitutes that will get them back on their feet, one that specifically addresses drug addiction and alternative job training. It’s helped in other cities.

It won’t be a quick and easy solution for cops and politicians, but it may start to solve the problem.