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California Losing Millions in Civil Asset Forfeiture Funds as Law Aims to Curb Police Abuse

For decades, federal asset forfeiture revenue in California soared from the sale of seized properties. Police used federal law to seize everything from boats to vehicles to homes, thereby circumventing California laws. Opponents call it “policing for profit” or “theft by cop.”

Consider that in 2015 law enforcement operations in California grew the Federal Asset Forfeiture Fund by $170.9 million. The state’s share? Almost 50 percent of that, or more than $86 million “in ‘equitable sharing payments’ in return,” a Southern California News Group analysis reveals.

However, Senate Bill 443 closed a loophole effective January 1, 2017. The law now curbs civil asset forfeiture abuse by protecting “personal property, allowing local agencies to keep proceeds from asset seizures only when people are convicted of a crime, rather than simply when they’re arrested,” Southern California News Group reports.

The result? The change will be seen over the coming years.

The data so far show that seizures haven’t slowed under the new law, but “local agencies no longer get as big a cut,” Southern California News Group reports.

That forfeiture revenue sharing loss of over $30 million, from $86 million down to $55.2 million, all from 2015 to 2018 — while “the value of property seized in California more than doubled” hurts, police officials acknowledge.”

So public safety departments that used to be more flush with forfeiture money are seeking additional revenue sources to help cover crime fighting and equipment buys.

The citizenry, meanwhile, should benefit from greater due process protections under the new law.

“States do not have the right to bow out of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids excessive fines and cruel and unusual punishment,” said Bryan L. Sykes, an assistant professor in UC Irvine’s Department of Criminology, Law and Society. 


Sources:, ACLU

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