Yet Another Report Shows Asset Forfeiture Doesn't Reduce Crime Or Cripple Criminal Organizations
from the makin'-it-rain-on-discretionary-spending-opportunities dept
According to the Department of Justice (and countless other law enforcement agencies), civil asset forfeiture is a valuable tool that harms criminal organizations and lowers crime rates. It’s a deterrent they assert actually exists, despite there being no accompanying arrests of these supposed criminals.
I don’t know what criminal organizations are being dismantled at less than $1,000/seizure, but that’s the reality of asset forfeiture. A large majority of forfeitures involve amounts too small to be disputed in court, where legal fees quickly outpace any expected recovery.
That’s how the system “works.” Cops grab what they can and hope the system tilted in their favor pays off. Any incidental effects on crime rates are a bonus. But lowering crime isn’t the focus, no matter what’s asserted by defenders of legalized theft.
And the facts say otherwise. A study released last year showed asset forfeiture has zero effect on crime rates or drug sales. All it does is take cash from people who need it the most, as is borne out by low dollar amounts most frequently seen in forfeiture cases.
Now, another study is confirming the obvious: asset forfeiture enriches police departments… but not the lives of the people they serve. The study had a great data set to work with. Back in 2015, New Mexico outlawed civil asset forfeiture. If cops wanted to take stuff, they had to secure a conviction. If asset forfeiture was the valuable crime-fighting tool New Mexico law enforcement agencies claimed it was, crime rates would be expected to increase. But that’s not what happened, according to the Institute of Justice’s study.
[F]ive years after New Mexico effectively banned civil forfeiture, those fears remain unrealized, according to a new study set to be published on Tuesday by the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm that has been advocating reforms to forfeiture laws. The predicted rise in crime and drop in arrests has not materialized, according to the study, which is based on analyses of FBI data. Arrest and offense rates in New Mexico, the study found, remained essentially flat before and after the 2015 law went into effect. That’s based on an examination of crime overall, as well as a specific set of offenses: drug possession, drug sales, and driving under the influence. Arrest and offense rates were also consistent with trends in two neighboring states, Colorado and Texas.
Despite there being no link between forfeiture and crime reduction, the DOJ continues to claim the system works. The DOJ likes to point to its biggest seizures — like forfeitures related to high-profile criminal cases involving millions of dollars — as proof the program is essential to the recovery of criminal proceeds to make whole victims of crimes. But the DOJ purposefully conflates criminal and civil asset forfeiture. The former is tied to criminal convictions. The latter occurs without almost zero court examination or adversarial hearings.
Civil asset forfeiture rarely involves millions of dollars. When court costs are far more than what can be recovered, the system allows cops to amass large sums of cash in small increments. That’s the reality of forfeiture: tiny amounts of cash no one outside of law enforcement would assume were the result of criminal activity.
The median forfeiture averaged $1,276 across the 21 states where usable data was obtainable. In most of those states, half of cash seizures fell below $1,000. In Michigan, for example, half of all civil forfeitures of currency were worth less than $423, and in Pennsylvania, that median value was $369.
That’s how we’re crippling massive criminal conspiracies: with cash amounts that wouldn’t even cover a car payment. The median amount in these cases show cops are just shaking down people for the money in their wallets and cooking up a post-seizure justification for taking their money. If it costs $1,000 to fight a $400 seizure, almost everyone is just going to let it go. Then the cops point to the number of unchallenged seizures as “evidence” the alleged perps (who were never arrested or charged) are guilty of criminal activity.
This money is then converted into slush funds for cops — ones that often aren’t subject to additional oversight. Cops pay salaries and make off-the-book purchases of surveillance tech with these funds, secure in the knowledge that their oversight can’t oversee line items that aren’t reflected in local budget books. The more often they get away with this, the more often they feel they can use their power to take cash from people to buy themselves the things they want.
Meanwhile, no one gets any more safety or security out of the deal. Citizens are subjected to shakedowns by officers without any corresponding decrease in crime rates or increase in public safety. Not only do cops become a law unto themselves with forfeiture programs, they shortchange honest citizens whose tax dollars are being wasted on programs designed to pad cop shop budgets.