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Report: Asset Forfeiture Distorts Police Priorities

by Derek Gilna

A new report published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

argues that drug-crime  asset forfeiture by law enforcement agencies, which it termed "police for profit," could have had unintended consequences beyond the well-documented abuses of the process.  That report explained  that these asset forfeitures were made possible by the passage of the omnibus 1984 Comprehensive Crime Control Act (CCCA),  instituted in response to rising crime rates, also contributed to a 17% decline in the crime rate.

However, that was 1984.  Many criminal justice experts agree that criminal forfeitures often became more of a way to fatten law enforcement coffers than a method to rein in drug crime: “The notion that local law enforcement agencies ‘police for profit’ cannot be dismissed. Now, other experts argue that the possibility of financial reward from drug asset seizures  has skewed law enforcement priorities so that other non-drug crimes are often being ignored.

Although drug arrests spiked more than 37% during this time, arrests for other violent and non-violent crimes did not increase.

Accusations of some police agencies "policing for profit" are nothing new, of course, and are as old as small-town "speed traps" set up in the name of promoting  "traffic safety", that are really set up to collect fines to pay for an additional squad car. Now, the avalanche of federally-facilitated drug forfeitures created a gushing revenue stream of billions of dollars that resulted in the formation of drug task forces, expensive equipment, additional vehicles, and funded up to 20% increase in many law enforcement budgets.

Former Attorney General Eric Holder reined in these abusive drug forfeitures in 2015 by confining them only to drug prosecutions that resulted in convictions, but current Attorney General Jeff Session has reinstated them. “The asset forfeiture program has proven to be extremely valuable to law enforcement in our country, but it has received certain criticisms,” he said.

The report's authors explore the conflicting choice faced with the choice of pursuing a prosecution of a statute that does not permit forfeitures, as opposed to one that does.  "It is important to understand how the system (specifically, civil asset forfeiture) affects the behavior of participants in the criminal justice system and generates intended and unintended consequences,” they said, implying that is now time to put that system back into balance.

Source: https//thecrimereport.org.

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