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.

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Comments on “Yet Another Report Shows Asset Forfeiture Doesn't Reduce Crime Or Cripple Criminal Organizations”

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32 Comments
Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

"There is a law against it, but they benefit from acting unlawfully."

Go read up on "Civil Forfeiture". The only way they can "act unlawfully" in seizing property is if they openly state that they had no actual cause or suspicion of cause to seize the assets.

"I mean, have you really never learnt about ‘criminals’ and ‘breaking the law’?"

I have, which is why I’m quite clear that US law enforcement are quite obviously not criminal in practice when they abide by US law. This should be blisteringly clear.

I suspect your problem is that you don’t really know what "civil forfeiture" means. Essentially it means that as long as a flatfoot can claim they had suspicion a person was involved in malfeasance or planning to involve themselves in malfeasance they can permanently seize whatever assets they deem necessary to prevent the execution of said malfeasance.

Real world examples of burden of proof applied was "He looked shifty". and real examples of seizures made include such obviously criminal assets as a zamboni , a marguerita machine, a LOT of cash and large fleets of expensive cars.

This would be damn unthinkable anywhere in europe, and I suspect as a result of that you have some naíve illusions about how US law works here.

There’s a nice wiki entry about civil forfeiture you may want to read. Pay special attention to the logical burden of first the word of an officer being enough to carry out the seizure, and secondly the logical impossibility the owner then has to have their property returned – proving a negative.

ECA (profile) says:

Funny

Havent we seen here, that there are More Attacks on Homes by the police, that lead to NOTHING, except that the police take everything, or kill those inside? And the amounts of drugs is minimal?
Reports of Cops stopping out of state cars and taking any cash they can get.

Much of the reality tends to be that There can only be so many drug dealers in an area. and if they are getting rousted, they either Stop, lay low, or move to another area where there are less problems. I wont even mention that it would be Quite easy for a High quantity dealer to pay a few off and get away with anything.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Asset Forfeiture Doesn't Reduce Crime

"A good thing to ask whether you can do, if you’re not sure if you’re bing shaken down :)"

According to real life examples, it’s not a good idea to start questioning the US officer just "forfeiting" your car, your wallet, and the drink mixing machine you just bought for your s.o. Plenty of examples of this leading to a case of "resisting arrest".

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Even if they were right, they'd be wrong

Even if you took them at their word, that robbery-at-badgepoint did in fact more than mildly inconvenience criminals, given the cost is members of the public regularly stolen from and robbed with no recourse exactly how is that supposed to be an improvement?

Great, you slightly decreased drug sales, and in exchange you caused robberies to skyrocket, way to go.

Of course that’s taking them at their word when it’s clear that they’re lying through their teeth regarding the motivations behind the whole thing, in actuality all that happens is that dealers and producers lose some money here and there but otherwise suffer no real impact, and the public gets robbed by those supposedly tasked with upholding the law. From one group of criminals to two groups of criminals, one of them with the backing and protection of the courts such that their victims are essentially without any recourse, what a great improvement.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
danderbandit (profile) says:

I don't even know what to say

Check out this story "Law enforcement took more stuff from people than burglars did last year (2014)"

(https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/11/23/cops-took-more-stuff-from-people-than-burglars-did-last-year/)

Maybe this is because the cops have been so successful at busting the bad guys?
/s

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Interesting

"So why has the DEA not gone after the sackler family…"

Because do it the right way grand-scale drug dealing is legal. The same way as police nicking private property at gunpoint without reason is legal.

The right question would be; "How the hell is this legal at all?"

The US seems to have regressed to 18th century England in many ways. Everything of vital importance is crumbling around their ears and half the people needed to fix it are just braying "No we can’t!" while holding their ears.

davedave (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Interesting

So you’re going with the second option? Great, have fun, it’s a very interesting load of history you’re going to enjoy reading about. The Regency is a fascinating time. If nothing else, it puts paid to the idea that sexual freedom started in the 20th century and has been straight line growth from there.

https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-74949;jsessionid=E15944BA8B41C36A1CF19ADB9AED28B9

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Interesting

"Oh, nice work. No-one can accuse you of being a neo, because you’ve picked the Catholics instead of the Jews"

I was wondering why you kept tossing up straw men, false assumptions, history revisionism and red herrings while moving the goalposts.

I guess we can confirm you as being a troll now.

"Or do you just know the square root of fuck all about C18 England?"

That it was falling apart, losing its colonies, and had the parliament, the king and the house of lords all beating each other over the head with their personal agendas while the empire was crumbling?

No, it looks to me as if I know a great deal about 18th century England. More, at least, than you appear to know about the various scandals rocking US law enforcement, the US civil war, and a few other areas you keep demonstrating either willful ignorance or a serious case of dunning-kruger.

Since you saw fit to drop the polite facade I’ll just stop wasting my niceties in return.

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davedave (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Interesting

I know this is a US-centred site, but here in the UK the alt-left reared its ugly head and got whack-a-mole*d recently.

(*I’m guessing in the US the games are called something to do with prairie dogs? They pop up and you hit them with a mallet.)

https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/publication-download/investigation-antisemitism-labour-party

So go on, let’s see if you can say anything not covered by that report. You’re 0/1 so far. Well, 0/2 if we count the failed attempt at cultural appropriation.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Interesting

"Suggesting that allegations of antisemitism, however obviously true, are incapable of being serious is a standard of the alt-left."

Oh, just get your ass back to Stormfront. It was painfully obvious back in the Civil war debate that you’d been eating the KKK history revisionism of how a war against slavery was really a "two sides" thing, and even more so when you have to start running unveiled racist bullshit about the sacklers – whose role in the opioid crisis you might want to read about before you decide the one thing those people did wrong was to be annoying to anti-semites for drawing breath.

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