Apparently, Cops Now Steal More from Citizens than do Actual Criminals

Via Tyler Cowen, comes this

Between 1989 and 2010, U.S. attorneys seized an estimated $12.6 billion in asset forfeiture cases. The growth rate during that time averaged +19.4% annually. In 2010 alone, the value of assets seized grew by +52.8% from 2009 and was six times greater than the total for 1989. Then by 2014, that number had ballooned to roughly $4.5 billion for the year, making this 35% of the entire number of assets collected from 1989 to 2010 in a single year. According to the FBI, the total amount of goods stolen by criminals in 2014 burglary offenses suffered an estimated $3.9 billion in property losses. This means that the police are now taking more assets than the criminals.

I will remind folks that civil asset forfeiture is by definition taken from innocent people, ie those not convicted of a crime.

Update:  It would be interesting to see the racial/ethnic mix of those whose stuff is seized.  Somehow, I don't imagine the victims of theft-by-cop are a bunch of rich white people.


  1. Jason Azze:

    I'm no fan of civil asset forfeiture, but comparing the amount taken by cops to the amount taken in "burglary offenses" isn't the same as comparing it to the total property losses for all criminal activity. So it might be more accurate to say "Cops Now Steal More from Citizens than do Burglars".

  2. irandom419:

    That rate of return sure beats the index funds in your other post.

  3. ErikEssig:

    "Update: It would be interesting to see the racial/ethnic mix of those whose stuff is seized. Somehow, I don't imagine the victims of theft-by-cop are a bunch of rich white people."

    You may be right, but presumably assets of some rich people must be being seized.

  4. joe:

    one of the few rhenquist decisions I disagree with

  5. herdgadfly:

    From what I read, 80% of minorities convicted of drug trafficking are minorities and that makes sense when you consider that Hispanics are involved in transporting for the Mexican drug cartel.

    So is Coyote trying to infer that all or most asset seizures are illegitimate? Methinks that that was the conclusion reached before the post was made.

  6. Not Sure:

    "80% of minorities convicted of drug trafficking are minorities"

    I would think that 100% of minorities are minorities. But then, that's just me.

  7. Baelzar:

    It's much easier for the cops to go after the low-hanging fruit; the dealers on the street corners. They don't go after the wealthier people in nicer neighborhoods who sell/buy drugs inside. The majority of illegal drugs in the US are bought and used by white people. It's simple math.

  8. Greg Nullet:

    Now we have Loretta Lynch running the game: ". . . the Wall Street Journal revealed that during her tenure as U.S. attorney
    for the Eastern District of New York, Ms. Lynch has used civil asset
    forfeiture in more than 120 cases,"

  9. chembot:

    I'm not really sure why we have to wonder about the racial demographics here. Seems to me the rich white people would be more likely to be carrying $10k of tangible assets on them when the cop rolls up for the lootenanny. It is questionable that their material wealth even affords them much better legal defense in these situations given the appalling way these statutes are written/construed.

    In any case, I've never really understood how these seizures are constitutional. But then again, after Kelo, it seems the state ability to take private property isn't limited by much. That makes me a sad panda. Almost makes those goldbugs and their "boating accidents" seem less conspiratorially paranoid and crazy.

  10. Baelzar:

    This whole thing is appalling, btw.

  11. slocum:

    No. Rich white people almost never carry around quantities of cash -- that practice is much more common among lower income people and, especially, immigrants who didn't trust the banks where they came from (but naively believe the cops in the U.S. are honest and won't steal their stuff like they did back home. But of course the 'joke' is on them -- back there, the cops wanted a cut and the seizures were actually illegal. But here the cops take it ALL and have the law on their side when they do it).

  12. sean2829:

    It's not just the cops either. I know of a gentleman who got out of prison, got a job and was living in a halfway house. Members of our church decided to help him so they convinced him to open a bank account which they helped him do. 2 weeks later state seized account fo non payment of child support.
    So if you are poor and have had any run in with the law, financial penalties are fully automated and built into the banking system. No cops needed.

  13. Noumenon72:

    The story this links to has a Justice Department spinner saying that Bernie Madoff and the Toyota judgment contributed over $1.2 billion to the fund each.

  14. ColoComment:

    Warren, I think you should re-think your insinuation that civil asset forfeiture may be a racial/ethnic problem. While drug dealers may have MONEY, I suggest that they do not frequently have ASSETS. And what I mean by that differentiation is that it's not likely that drug dealers have legitimate bank accounts that may be attached and emptied, nor homes in high class neighborhoods that may be taken and sold, nor store inventory that may be seized and sold (their inventory is... illegal drugs, yes?)

    If you take a look at some of the forfeiture cases for which Institute for Justice has undertaken the pro bono defense, you'll find that a high number are middle-class, hard working law-abiding citizens IRRESPECTIVE OF COLOR who were inadvertently caught up in the CAF web, usually as an ignorant and innocent third-party.

    Like the RICO statute, civil asset forfeiture is a well-intentioned law that has been used for purposes far beyond its original purposes, probably because of the corrupting monetary incentives.
    (full disclosure: I am a donor to Institute for Justice.)

  15. chembot:

    Doesn't have to be cash. Could be 15 oz of gold, 43k in bearer bonds, a case of expensive watches or other expensive jewelry, a couple of legally owned guns, etc. Nut what if you are simply doing a cash purchase of a used car? Or maybe you weren't doing anything at all; it was your son who was trying to deal $40 of dope and now you face losing your house.

    Remember too that it is the property that is on trial, not the person. And in these sorts of cases, the legal protections are quite a bit smaller than for criminal cases. And besides, for every white person with "pull", I can show you 1000 more who don't in any meaningful way.

    Look, I think there are plenty of issues where there is true racial disparity, but I think this one is a pretty equal opportunity offender. When you look at the citizenry as simply a bunch of individual bank accounts, it is not hard to adopt the Willie Sutton attitude. But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe we should start calling cops "Cadillac chasers"

  16. obloodyhell:

    If by "rich people" you mean drug kingpins and others with limited justification for the cash and items they have in their possession.

    Please don't be confused by the above comment as support for the seizure in any way. But yeah, pretty much all the people you steal billions from are likely "rich", if you're not doing it via IRS techniques.

  17. obloodyhell:


  18. obloodyhell:

    Almost all of the Constitution-softening decisions of the SCotUS of the last 50 years -- which is the majority of them -- are an abomination of federal authority.

  19. xtmar:

    I am by no means an expert, but do bearer bonds even exist anymore outside of plots in detective stories? My understanding was that they changed the rules regarding the tax status of bearer bonds a few decades ago, in order to make it harder to launder money. They're still legal, but I don't think anybody issues them anymore, because their tax treatment is so unfavorable.