REPORT: Police Asset-Seizure a Lucrative Moneymaker, Ineffective Crime Deterrent

‘Forfeiture proponents should bear the burden of proof when opposing reforms that would keep police focused on fighting crime…’

Study: Civil Asset Forfeiture Not Effective at Fighting Crime

IMAGE: Institute for Justice

(Lionel Parrott, Liberty Headlines) A study from the Institute for Justice finds that civil asset forfeiture is an ineffective way to combat crime—but a very effective way for police to raise revenue, leading to concerns about “policing for profit.”

IJ reported the findings in a press release.

Forfeiture is controversial—governments use it to take property from criminal defendants, and police departments take a portion of the proceeds.

While most people would say there’s nothing wrong with police raising revenue, the implications for civil liberties and due process are vast.


Nonetheless, some prominent voices in law enforcement—like Attorney General William Barr, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein—have zealously advocated for its use.

The study by the Institute for Justice focused on the largest forfeiture program in the United States—the “equitable sharing” program at the federal Department of Justice—and used more than a decade’s worth of data to test the crime-fighting hypotheses.

For instance, forfeiture supporters said it gave law enforcement more resources to fight crime. But the study found that there isn’t much correlation between forfeiture proceeds and crimes solved.

Forfeiture supporters also asserted that the tool helped shut down drug-dealers and drug cartels by harming them financially. But the study found that forfeiture is a poor method of tackling drug use.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the study was the finding that equitable sharing increases when the local economy is poor. This suggests that law enforcement is likely pursuing forfeiture as a method of raising revenue, not fighting crime.

“These results add to a growing body of evidence suggesting that forfeiture’s value in crime fighting is exaggerated and that police do use forfeiture to raise revenue,” said the study’s author, Brian Kelly, an associate professor of economics at Seattle University.

“Given this evidence and the serious civil liberties concerns raised by forfeiture, forfeiture proponents should bear the burden of proof when opposing reforms that would keep police focused on fighting crime, not raising revenue.”