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Report undercuts claims of civil asset forfeiture proponents

Any discussion of the police tactic/tool known as civil asset forfeiture might logically begin with a nod to its sheer magnitude. Reportedly, state and federal law enforcers have employed forfeiture against a ballpark figure of 10 million people across the United States The spoils they have reaped through doing so are inarguably impressive.

In fact, they are stunning in their dimensions. It is estimated that authorities have taken more than $50 billion from Americans via the forfeiture process.

We described the tactic and noted those numbers in a Rosenblum Schwartz & Fry blog post from earlier this year. And we underscored in our March 5 entry that proponents’ take on forfeiture is predictable and unsurprising. They laud its stated rationale and results, citing its effectiveness “in striking back against organized crime, terrorism and other elevated concerns.”

Candidly, the glow surrounding asset forfeiture is one-sided, with the general public largely loathing the practice with the same fervor that police agencies extol it. We stressed in the above-cited blog post the widespread national view that forfeiture is nothing more than “policing for profit.”

A report just issued by the national group Institute for Justice provides some strong ammunition to forfeiture’s wide swath of critics. It centrally concludes following an examination of a reported “decade’s worth of asset forfeiture data” that the practice “is exaggerated and that police do use forfeiture to raise revenue.”

That is a finding of real import, given its flipside takeaway that forfeiture grabs across the U.S. do not contribute materially to solving crimes or reducing drug activity.

The study’s bottom line is that forfeiture operates “less to fight crime than to raise revenue.”

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