New Study Says Civil Asset Forfeiture Laws in Tennessee and Other States Do Not Reduce Crime


Civil Asset Forfeiture laws do not help reduce crime, nor do they reduce the amount of drug use, according to a new study that called out Tennessee for how it carries out some of its laws.

The Arlington, Virginia-based Institute for Justice released the study, titled Fighting Crime or Raising Revenue.

Simply put, increased forfeiture funds had no meaningful effect on crime fighting. However, forfeiture was strongly linked to worsening economic conditions,” said study author Brian D. Kelly.

“These results suggest law enforcement agencies pursue forfeiture less to fight crime than to raise revenue,” Kelly wrote.

Among Kelly’s findings:

• More equitable sharing funds do not translate into more crimes solved.

• More equitable sharing funds also do not mean less drug use, even though proponents argue forfeiture helps rid the streets of drugs by financially crippling drug dealers and cartels.

• When local economies suffer, equitable sharing activity increases, suggesting police make greater use of forfeiture when local budgets are tight.

Kelly’s study examined both civil and criminal forfeitures.

“If all forfeiture has little effect on crime fighting, civil forfeiture alone – which requires neither convictions nor even charges – is likely to be even further removed. And the results call into question the wisdom of financial incentives baked into both civil and criminal forfeiture laws,” Kelly wrote.

“These results add to a growing body of scholarly evidence supporting forfeiture’s critics, suggesting that claims about forfeiture’s value in crime fighting are exaggerated at best and that police do use forfeiture to raise revenue. In light of this evidence and the serious civil liberties concerns raised by forfeiture, policymakers and the public should demand hard evidence for claims that forfeiture fights crime.”

Kelly said his study combined more than a decade’s worth of data from the U.S. Department of Justice’s equitable sharing program.

Under equitable sharing, state and local law enforcement officials cooperate with federal agencies on forfeitures and receive a portion of the proceeds.

In one example, Kelly wrote about law enforcement officers in Tennessee working I-40 as part of a highway interdiction task force.

“Officers did not work the east- and westbound lanes equally. Rather, they seemed to prefer the westbound side even though they were more likely to find drugs on the eastbound side, as smugglers transported them to Nashville and other cities to the east,” Kelly wrote.

“A possible explanation for this observation is that officers knew they were more likely to find drug money on the westbound side, as smugglers transported it back to Mexico or the West Coast. Records confirmed officers made 10 times as many stops on the westbound side as they did on the eastbound. In other words, it appeared police were choosing to pursue cash – potential revenue – rather than stop drugs.”

Read the full report:

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Chris Butler is an investigative journalist at The Tennessee Star. Follow Chris on Facebook. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Brian D. Kelly PhD.” by the University of Seattle.





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