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Civil Asset Forfeiture, Equitable Sharing, and Policing for Profit in the United States

NCJ Number
Journal of Criminal Justice Volume: 39 Issue: 3 Dated: May/June 2011 Pages: 273-285
Jefferson E. Holcomb; Tomislav V. Kovandzic; Marian R. Williams
Date Published
June 2011
13 pages
This study investigated whether law enforcement forfeiture activities by State and local police departments was influenced by different statutory incentives for forfeiture activity.
Critics of asset forfeiture claim that forfeiture laws create financial incentives that inappropriately influence police behavior. The present study examines the relationship between measures of the financial incentive and legal burdens for civil asset forfeiture on Federal equitable sharing payments to local law enforcement to determine whether police behavior is affected by different statutory incentives for forfeiture activity. Using LEMAS and DOJ forfeiture data, this study addresses some of the limitations of previous research by using a multi-year average for forfeiture activity, an improved measure of financial incentives for law enforcement, and multiple measures of statutory burdens to law enforcement to determine the impact of forfeiture laws on forfeiture activity. Consistent with anecdotal reports and limited prior research, findings indicate that agencies in jurisdictions with more restrictive State forfeiture laws receive more proceeds through Federal equitable sharing. Results suggest that State and local law enforcement agencies use Federal equitable sharing to circumvent their own State forfeiture laws when State laws are more burdensome or less financially rewarding to these agencies, providing additional evidence that police operations are influenced by financial incentives. (Published Abstract)