From time to time prosecutors’ offices – and not just federal ones – issue press releases with information like this: $94 million “recovered” from, well, what do you call it? Prosecutorial operations, I guess.
Bringing the profit motive to bear upon criminal prosecutions is troubling, for reasons so fundamental that it’s hard for a lot of people to see it, and it’s even hard to put it into words. But briefly, government actors shouldn’t behave like private enterprise. Government is the referee in the game, not a player. Government doesn’t have any competition, it has a legal monopoly – on force, no less. Government is supposed to be disinterested in outcomes, other than seeing justice prevail.
But what is more troubling than the fact that this kind of thing is occurring is that US Attorney’s offices issue press releases about it, touting the supposed benefits to taxpayers and whatnot. Indeed, the linked press release goes to some length to point out that the US Attorney’s office is, you know, a profit center for the taxpayers.
That is not the US Attorney’s job. The US Attorney’s office is supposed to cost the taxpayers money. All law enforcement is. And it does, in ways both obvious and hidden. The “recovered” $94 million doesn’t make a dent in the real cost of criminal prosecutions.
What the $94 million does do, though, is to create opportunities and temptations for over-reaching, corruption, waste, fraud, and abuse. That such undesirable consequences have plagued law enforcement operations anywhere and everywhere they have been given incentives to grab money from their targets should hardly be news to anyone. Stories have appeared over and over. Even in the mainstream media.
There’s an undeniable mass appeal to the narrative that goes: we, the good guys, are not only arresting, prosecuting and imprisoning the bad guys; we are turning their ill-gotten gains to good purposes – that is, catching more bad guys. Then again, there is an undeniable mass appeal to utopian fantasies. Reality is never quite so simple.
I can understand young law enforcement officers getting carried away with the false narrative. I’d be less tolerant of older law enforcement officers. And – with all due respect, of course – I think the US Attorney’s office issuing a cheerleading type press release about this sort of thing is pretty disturbing. It’s like they need a maturity check. Or perhaps more than that.
Not that anyone is listening to me, of course. I mean, they should, I think. Not for my sake but for theirs.