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Research Summary

Critics have argued that asset forfeiture encourages policing for profit, but their arguments have yet to transcend the anecdotal arena. We gathered data on asset forfeiture payments from a multistate sample of 572 law enforcement agencies and tested two hypotheses aimed at answering the question, is policing for profit? Although we found no clear evidence of more forfeiture in states that permit local agencies to receive the most proceeds, we did find that local law-enforcement agencies circumvent restrictive state laws (those placing limits on the proceeds they can receive) by teaming up with federal officials to participate in so-called adoptive forfeitures, which permit them to receive equitable sharing payments. This latter finding was robust to numerous specifications, not altered in models estimated on various subsamples, and not affected by extreme values. Policy Implications

Our study lends a measure of support to the arguments espoused by forfeiture's critics, namely that forfeiture may be pursued for financial reasons. We cannot, however, assert that policing for profit is necessarily problematic, as it is difficult to fault financially strapped public agencies for seeking needed resources. Nor can we assert that forfeiture supersedes other criminal justice goals, such as enforcement of antidrug laws.
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Keywords: adoptive forfeiture; asset forfeiture; drug enforcement; equitable sharing

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Associate professor of criminology at the University of Texas at Dallas.

Publication date: May 1, 2008

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