Research Raises Questions About ‘Policing for Profit’

Jul 29, 2008

( -- If a police officer stops a motorist and discovers cash and narcotics during the stop, the officer may have the authority to confiscate the car as an instrument of crime and the money as probable proceeds of criminal activity.

Asset forfeiture laws allow governments to seize citizens’ private property, including real estate, vehicles and currency, if they are tied to illegal conduct. Although the laws dictating who will receive the proceeds vary from state to state, critics have long contended that these laws lead to “policing for profit.”

UT Dallas criminologists John Worrall and Tom Kovandzic have completed one of the only studies that looks at the application of asset forfeiture laws and whether the laws affect the goals and actions of police departments. The study titled, “Is Policing for Profit? Answers from Asset Forfeiture” is published in the most recent issue of Criminology and Public Policy.

Worrall and Kovandzic, both criminology professors in the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences, analyzed 572 police departments around the country to look at the big picture of how asset forfeiture laws might influence policing. Their data came from the Law Enforcement Management and Administrative Statistics survey and the U.S. Justice Department Asset Forfeiture Program.

Worrall and Kovandzic found that money does matter. The prospect of receiving money may drive forfeiture activities. This finding was consistent, regardless of the varying state regulations regarding the division of the proceeds. Even in the most restrictive states, police departments can get back up to 80 percent of the proceeds by working with the federal government in a process called equitable sharing.

These findings are timely as rising gas prices and a changing economy leave police departments faced with growing budget constraints. “As agencies become more desperate, there’s the potential for the situation to worsen. We could see a lot more interest in creative sources of funding,” said Worrall.

Despite the findings that policing for profit does exist and is an increasing occurrence, Worrall and Kovandzic point out that it remains a potentially effective tool for drug enforcement. “Forfeiture revenues are often pumped back into drug task forces. It’s hard to fault law enforcement agencies for using the law to their advantage to wage an expensive war on drugs,” said Worrall.

Provided by University of Texas at Dallas

Explore further: Color and texture matter most when it comes to tomatoes

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Color and texture matter most when it comes to tomatoes

21 hours ago

A new study in the Journal of Food Science, published by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), evaluated consumers' choice in fresh tomato selection and revealed which characteristics make the red fruit most appealing.

How the lotus got its own administration

Oct 21, 2014

Actually the lotus is a very ordinary plant. Nevertheless, during the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) a complex bureaucratic structure was built up around this plant. The lotus was part of the Imperial Household, ...

What labels on textiles can tell us about society

Oct 21, 2014

Throughout Chinese history, dynastic states used labels on textiles to spread information on the maker, the commissioner, the owner or the date and site of production. Silks produced in state-owned manufacture ...

US company sells out of Ebola toys

Oct 17, 2014

They might look tasteless, but satisfied customers dub them cute and adorable. Ebola-themed toys have proved such a hit that one US-based company has sold out.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Jul 31, 2008
These laws are a deadly attack against democracy, private property, and innocent property owners. Too often once police gain control over property innocent owners and individuals adjudged innocent spend huge sums to regain their property. New Orleans, after several court rulings directing them to return property, still refuses to return firearms, automobiles, and real property. These laws are an abomination. Don't drive a motor vehicle the local cops like through Louisiana if you're a minority, young, or poor. Even some rich folks have had to go through federal court to reclaim vehicles and cash seized as "drug related" even when no drugs were found. Besides, dirty cops often drop a nickel bag and take your car. These laws empower the bad guys in law enforcement. Supervisors are reluctant to finger the bad cops because they're bringing in money and "toys" to the agency.