Allegedly there is disproportionate amount of U.S. police effort to perform drug bust versus fighting other classes of crimes, as the law allows them to confiscate property, which then can be sold with proceeds going directly to the police departments budget.

Are both these claims true? Is it disproportionate? Does confiscated property go directly to PD budgets?

Example of such a claim:

Ever wonder why police spend so much time enforcing failed drug laws? To find the answer, you just need to follow the money. Funding schemes and asset forfeiture laws have given law enforcement agencies strong financial incentives to continue the drug war. Because funding for drug task forces is often based on the number of arrests made and the amount of property seized in drug busts, the easiest way for local police to up their numbers and boost their careers is to target low-level drug offenders, not violent kingpins. To create arrest opportunities, police routinely rely on untrustworthy informants, conduct dangerous home invasions on flimsy evidence, frame suspects and commit perjury. Asset forfeiture laws allow law enforcement agencies to seize property with minimal proof, putting the burden instead on suspects to prove their own innocence. Because these assets often go straight into the coffers of the enforcement agency, these laws have created financial incentives for property seizures that encourage corruption.

(source: "Distorted Financial Incentives for Enforcement" by the Drug Policy Alliance)

Related question: Are SWATs in the US mostly used for serving marijuana warrants?

  • 1
    What would be a measure of "disproportionate"? (I can imagine a comparison against US jurisdictions where the confiscated property didn't go to directly the the police. In the absence of that, I don't know what it could be compared against.
    – Oddthinking
    Jun 13, 2014 at 10:20
  • 1
    I realize it's kind of chicken-egg problem, because statistics of arrests are obviously biased towards the priorities of the police. What I'd see as disproportionate, would be if estimated that drug crimes are X% of total crimes, yet lets say 3X% of police raids.
    – vartec
    Jun 13, 2014 at 10:36
  • 1
    But suppose drug crimes rates are lower than jaywalking, speeding or copyright violations (I have no evidence either way, but they all sound plausible.) Based on sentencing, society appears to consider drug crimes as much worse, which might warrant more raids. (Plus speeding and jaywalking don't require raids to prove.) When we see the figures, I may well agree it is disproportionate, but that seems to be an opinion call. (The other part of the question - who gets the spoils - seems legitimate, I've heard that claim, and I want to see that answer.)
    – Oddthinking
    Jun 13, 2014 at 10:44
  • 1
    "based on sentencing, society appears to consider drug crimes as much worse" -- not really. You'd have to consider, that in some states, like Colorado, they are not even crimes anymore, as allegedly around 50% of drug raids are related to marijuana.
    – vartec
    Jun 13, 2014 at 12:05
  • 4
    The proper search term is "civil forfeiture". What it means is that the government sues your property for being involved in criminal activities and gets to use civil case standards of proof and that you aren't the defendant (your property is). And the US courts have ruled that this does not violate the Constitution which goes to show that the law is an ass. Jun 13, 2014 at 14:25

1 Answer 1


From http://www.fed-soc.org/publications/detail/civil-asset-forfeiture-podcast:

As civil forfeiture abuses led to state reforms, local police departments were hamstrung -- they weren't allowed to keep the profits of civil forfeiture; it had to go back to state general funds. Well, the feds are here to help, and joint FBI, state police, local police actions have the benefit that the feds can share the profits with their state and local partners, notwithstanding state law. So, this is generally the statutory context right now.

Relating back to the question, the funds do not go "directly" to PD departments. They could only go indirectly to PD departments via sharing through joint actions with the FBI, or through the state or local general budgets.

  • Is that current state of what should happen? The description of the podcast states that "“civil forfeiture” are subject to abuse. Some allege that state and federal law enforcement authorities use civil forfeiture as a revenue-generation tool, creating perverse incentives [...] Our experts will discuss whether this area of our legal system is in need of reform". Which would suggest that the system is currently abused, why reform my stop the abuse in the future.
    – vartec
    Jun 14, 2014 at 19:40
  • @vartec What should happen is a policy and ethical question, which the podcast discusses at length.
    – user5582
    Jun 14, 2014 at 19:55
  • As civil forfeiture have come under fire there is a new practice to seize objects as evidence instead. For instance take someobody's wallet as evidence and when they don't collect it within a certain time ("Sorry, you have no id" as it's in the wallet) it is theirs to keep.
    – liftarn
    Jan 30, 2019 at 9:46

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