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Cops are seizing hundreds of millions of dollars from drivers and bragging about it in chat rooms

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Scott Davidson / Flickr

This weekend, The Washington Post published a deeply reported look at "highway interdiction," a controversial tactic that has allowed police to seize hundreds of millions of dollars from motorists without formally charging anyone with a crime. Typically, police will stop a driver under suspicion of drug trafficking, seize their cash as evidence, and refuse to return it without a legal challenge. Only one in six seizures were challenged, typically because of the high cost of legal assistance.

Hundreds of millions of dollars seized, all without pressing charges

But the legal justification is only part of the practice. As private consultants sought to expand the practice, they turned to surprisingly familiar methods, including an encrypted chat room where officers could brag about their latest hauls, share tactics, and spread private information about juicy targets passing through other jurisdictions. Known as the Black Asphalt Electronic Networking and Notification System, the chat room has over 25,000 members spread across the country, most of whom are law enforcement officers. Until recently, it was hosted at a DEA intelligence center, but has never received any official government oversight. Within the system, officers are encouraged to brag about particularly big hauls, and the member with the highest seizure total at the end of the year is dubbed a "Royal Knight."

In other words, it's Reddit for the highway interdiction, turning an otherwise sketchy practice into a game of online oneupmanship. If highway cops aren't encouraged to make seizures within their department, they can get that encouragement online, with plenty of other interdiction-happy cops cheering them on. And the encouragement works: seizures have more than tripled since 2000. Any dissenting voices, worried about the legal or moral implications of grabbing cash based on the thinnest tissue of reasonable suspicion, are kept out of the conversation entirely.