Journalist Angela Bacca has a recent article in Skunk Magazine titled “Child Snatchers: How a small Northern California County has manipulated medical marijuana laws and made a lucrative business out of kidnapping children”. I’m excerpting the section where Bacca discusses both the role of asset forfeiture and the predatory use of Child Protective Services by Butte County government (and where yours truly is quoted):
Since the passage of Prop 215 in 1996 small Northern California counties like Butte have been reaping the profits of the gray areas presented in the discrepancy between local and federal marijuana laws, predatory asset forfeiture policy and a failing school system.
Nearly 20% of Butte’s population lives below the Federal poverty line, more than twice the state’s rate and significantly higher than the national average. The cashstrapped school system is notoriously poor and many in the area have not completed a high school education. While the entire state is facing major slashes to the budget, Butte is no exception.
Since the recession began in 2008, the Butte County Board of Supervisors have been forthcoming about their anger, particularly in their fiscal reports, at the state for cutting funding and are scrambling to find additional sources of revenue. Schools and roads in Butte County have lost their upkeep and a once surplus budget in 2008 threatens to be a $2 million deficit by the end of fiscal year 2012, a staggering number for a county population of only 200,000, many of which are not permanent residents but students at nearby Chico State University.
Butte and its surrounding counties have seemingly found the answer to their budget woes. They have manufactured a crisis—the public menace of small, private marijuana farms in remote communities—in order to apply for Federal funding to address it. The system has become so corrupted that the county governmental agencies now work together in symbiotic collusion to exploit legal, compliant marijuana growers.
“Butte County law enforcement have closed their budget gap in part through the revenue generated by the seizure of property,” says Eapen Thampy, Executive Director of Americans for Forfeiture Reform, “With this incentive structure driving the priorities of Butte County law enforcement, it is no surprise that citizens find themselves victimized by the aggressive tactics of their own public agencies.”
Butte County has the last remaining narcotics task force north of Sacramento, the Butte Interagency Narcotics Task Force (BINTF). BINTF has become such a reliable source of revenue that the police, judicial and child protective services have morphed into a parasite, feeding off is own constituency for profit. Amid tight budget woes, last year Butte County purchased a $200,000 armored vehicle complete with turret and battering rams.
According to Thampy, police or task force officers who work these types of raids are able to increase their hourly salary through hazard Pay, overtime or holiday benefits—doubling or tripling their normal hourly rate. For local law enforcement in these small counties a marijuana raid could be as good as a holiday bonus.
Last year, the state eliminated the Campaign to Eradicate Marijuana Production (CAMP), which led exploratory helicopter flights throughout the forests in the northern part of the state to scout of marijuana gardens. CAMP had been in existence since President Nixon escalated the War on Drugs in the 1970s.
Butte County, however, applied for and received Federal funding for BINTF with the original mission of combating rampant methamphetamine production and use in the area. Marijuana proved to be not only more profitable, but a far easier target with the legality of medical marijuana.
Using BINTF helicopters, which fly overhead seven days a week, suspected marijuana grows are mapped out using Google Earth. BINTF, in cooperation with the County Sheriff, perform what they refer to as “compliance checks,” more commonly known in the area as “knock and talks.” They approach properties, private or otherwise, and politely gain entry from growers eager to appease them and evade raid and arrest. Often but not in every case, warrants are issued thereafter and the garden is raided and any property of value is seized and the value distributed through the seizing agencies and often the Federal Department of Justice, through a program called Equitable Sharing.
Furthermore, this particular county has found a way to even make child removal profitable during medical marijuana raids.
“Child Protective Services (CPS) – known as Children’s Services in Butte County—operates under a veil of secrecy and privilege,” states Meredith J. Cooper a journalist with the Chico News and Review. In 2010 she authored an article exposing the corruption and financial incentive in child removal in Butte County.
Cooper’s article goes further, outlining information cited from the Federal Grant’s Wire, Adoption Incentives program. For every foster child-adoption the county receives $4,000 in federal grants, a number that doubles to $8,000 if the child is then adopted after the age of 9. Children who remain in CPS custody represent a federal revenue stream for the county, so much so that Butte ranks #1 in the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform’s rate-of-removal index. Nearly 37% of impoverished children in the county are taken into protective custody in Butte County every year—more so than even the more notoriously dangerous and densely populated parts of the state like Oakland, Stockton and Los Angeles.