This statement was made by a deputy who is part of a program in South Carolina known as Operation Rolling Thunder. The Operation is called a “highway interdiction” mission to intercept drugs, drug money, other contraband, along with those transporting them. Driving infractions like failing to signal, following too closely, or speeding give deputies a reason to stop the driver and ultimately search the vehicle. No arrest or ticket has to be issued in order for cash or other property to be confiscated as “probable cause” of a possible crime. But what is the crime and what happens to the money taken?
According to law enforcement agencies, the seized cash and property helps in the fight against crime, specifically drug crimes. Getting the money and cars and homes away from the drug dealers cripples their illegal ventures. At least that’s the theory. And it equates to a lot of money: From 2001 to 2017, the Department of Justice and the Treasury department raked in $39,730,421,000 from these forfeited funds. This money does pay for equipment, training, and community involvement, but the majority of it is unaccounted for once it is dispersed to law enforcement agencies.
Not many people seem to question this lack of accountability. The majority of the time no crimes are documented and no arrests or convictions result from all this money disappearing into various budget black holes. And it happens in every state. Some legislatures have attempted to put some brakes on the practice only to have federal agencies partner with state law enforcement in a loophole called “equitable sharing.” In fact, over a 12 year period, payouts to state and local agencies have increased nearly 250%. So, that must mean programs like Operation Rolling Thunder do work to stop crimes, right?
Unfortunately not. A Virginia non-profit organization called The Institute for Justice has studied the practice to determine if police are fighting crime or raising money. “Fighting Crime or Raising Revenue” is their June 2019 report spanning over 10 years of data about assets taken from citizens. Their goal was to determine if crime decreased. After all, that is the reason law enforcement agencies justify these civil asset forfeitures. The study, though, got a different picture.
The bottom line of the study is that confiscating funds hasn’t had any positive effect on fighting crime. The Executive Summary of the report states that:
- Increasing revenue resulting from asset forfeiture isn’t translating into any improvement in crime fighting.
- The seized funds shared by federal and state agencies do not mean less drug use or drug dealers on the streets.
- Any downturn in the economy has led to even more seizures, suggesting law enforcement agencies are simply filling up holes in their budgets.
Due to these findings, the Institute states “In light of this evidence and the serious civil liberties concerns raised by forfeiture, policymakers and the public should demand hard evidence for claims that forfeiture fights crime.”
South Florida Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney
Has your lawful property been seized using asset forfeiture? Contact Brian Silber, P.A. to set up a free initial consultation and work with one of South Florida’s most experienced civil asset forfeiture defense attorneys.