Saturday Shorts: Crack down on civil forfeitures

The Detroit News

The state House has approved a package of bills aimed at setting stricter rules for police when they seize property believed involved in criminal activity, even if charges never are filed.

The legislation may not go far enough to protect citizens but it's a start.

The eight bills on the state's civil asset forfeiture laws require "clear and convincing evidence" that a car, boat or other personal property was part of a criminal enterprise before a law enforcement agency can take it. Current law allows forfeiture if there's "a preponderance" of evidence.

Improved transparency is also part of the legislation. Governmental agencies would have to file detailed annual reports with the Michigan State Police regarding seized and forfeited property. The reforms now go to the Senate.

The proposed bills hopefully will end some of the more egregious seizures. But if civil forfeiture is allowed to continue, the guiding principle should be that no property is taken without a criminal conviction. No law should encourage police departments and prosecutors to behave as thieves.

Oakland County tackles roads

In the wake of Proposal 1's defeat May 5, Oakland County officials have approved spending $2 million to patch potholes and repair roads in a stopgap effort to temper the growing road problems.

The county's board of commissioners has unanimously authorized the one-time appropriation to help the Road Commission for Oakland County buy equipment. Officials said the move will enable the road commission to shift money earmarked for equipment to fixing roads.

Over the past few years, with the Legislature stagnant in trying to find a permanent solution to fund road and bridge repairs, local communities have placed before voters millage issues to repair streets. In most cases, residents have seen the need for such funding and approved the tax increases.

Unfortunately, until the state legislators can do what they've been elected to do and fix the long-term road funding problems, local and county units of government are going to have to take the initiative.

A better way to track rape kits

UPS has partnered with Wayne County Prosecutor Kim Worthy to deliver a better, high-tech tracking system for the processing of sexual assault kits.

Worthy contacted the company to design a system that would prevent the tragic situation where 11,000 rape kits sat for years untested in a police lab.

A pilot program, reportedly the first of its kind in the country, was launched this year. Every new kit is assigned a bar code immediately after a sexual assault examination. The information is scanned into a modified version of the tracking system UPS offers to businesses that want to monitor internal deliveries. The UPS system tracks the kits through the chain of custody from examination room to evidence property room.

Turning to a successful business to draft a solution to the problem was a wise decision. Hopefully, this will expedite the prosecution of felons, taking them off the streets and possibly preventing further attacks by them on women.