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Fighting Crime or Raising Revenue: Testing Opposing Views of Forfeiture




Civil forfeiture turns police into bandits with a badge. Police respond to tight budgets by seizing more assets, finds a new study by Brian Kelly:

The fact that law enforcement agencies can often spend forfeiture proceeds—and, indeed, in the case of equitable sharing proceeds, must use them as a budget supplement—has led to charges that agencies undertake forfeiture more to realize revenue than to disrupt or deter crime. Considerable anecdotal evidence, as well as some scholarly evidence, suggests there is at least some truth to these charges, and my results provide additional support. Using data for the period 2004 through 2014, I find a statistically significant link between increases in fiscal stress, as measured by local unemployment, and increases in equitable sharing activity, suggesting police do make greater recourse to forfeiture when local budgets are tight. […]

For equitable sharing overall as well as for both joint operations and adoptions, the link between unemployment and both value of assets forfeited and number of assets seized was statistically significant. With respect to equitable sharing overall, a 1 percentage point increase in unemployment was associated with an 8.5 percentage point increase in the value of forfeited assets and a 9.5 percentage point increase in the number of assets seized […]. The latter result had slightly greater statistical significance.

[Brian Kelly, “Fighting Crime or Raising Revenue: Testing Opposing Views of Forfeiture,” Institute for Justice, June 2019]


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