A recent study by the Institute of Justice showed no collaboration between criminal activity and civil asset forfeitures, news sources state. Civil asset forfeiture has grown popular in police departments all over the country and infamous to property rights critics. Police justify the use of civil asset forfeiture as a way to entrap drug kingpins and other large, organized criminals, but this study, among others, calls that argument into question.
Civil asset forfeiture lets the police take away an individual’s property under the suspicion of it aiding criminal offenses. The system leaves the burden to provide proof of innocence to the property owners who often don’t do anything to retrieve their assets any longer.
Supporters of the procedure also cite that it helps law enforcement fight crime by incentivizing their agencies, giving them more means to combat crimes. Property rights critics, on the other hand, see civil asset forfeitures as ineffective to catching offenders and an excuse for police departments to supplement their own budgets.
In response to the attention surrounding civil asset forfeitures, Brian Kelly, an economist from the Institute for Justice, conducted a study to uncover how efficient civil asset forfeitures are for police crime-fighting. He gathered and looked at data from Arizona, Hawaii, Iowa, Michigan, and Minnesota, states that utilize forfeitures liberally.
In his findings, the economist observed that there is no remarkable decrease of crime rate targeted by civil asset forfeitures even though cases of state seizing properties are rising. Instead, he noted that there was no clear abatement in violent crimes despite high seizure rates. This suggests that law enforcers have diverted their attention from solving all kinds of crime to focusing on drug-related activity.
Property rights critics take this as a sign that civil asset forfeitures are mainly driven by financial agenda. Kelly also noticed an increase of asset seizures when the economy is down. According to him, when there is a single percent increase in unemployment, an 11% to 12% increase in forfeitures follows. This, he argues, shows profit-driven reasons for forfeiting property.
To test the relationship between civil asset forfeiture and drug violations, Kelly consulted the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. He found no trend that suggests an association between drug abuse violations and rising forfeiture profits. This stipulates that the primary reason for civil asset forfeiture laws—to prevent and solve drug-related crimes—is not being met.
To add more context of how ineffective these laws are against big, organized drug criminals, Kelly states that the average amount of property seized is just around $1,300 or less. This doesn’t prove that civil asset forfeiture catches drug kingpins, who normally handle exorbitant amounts of cash, most of the time. These relatively small forfeitures accumulate over time, giving police departments considerable amounts in revenue.
Kelly also investigated the Justice Department’s equitable sharing program and discovered that more agencies working together does not equate to more solved crimes or less drug use. It just suggests a loophole used by law enforcement from states with sturdier civil asset forfeiture laws to still take advantage of the system.
The Institute for Justice’s findings show that the current civil asset forfeiture laws are not hitting any of the goals it was made for. This is concerning, not just for property rights advocates, but also for all Americans. Depriving individuals of their lawful property is a civil crisis that the government must resolve.
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Source: 3.5.21 CAF Research