A new report on asset forfeiture arrives at the same conclusions every other report on the subject has: forfeiture makes money for cops, does almost nothing to stop illegal activity, and rarely, if ever, results in criminal convictions. (via CJ Ciaramella at Reason)
The new report [PDF], put together by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFPF), takes a look at the forfeiture racket in Kansas. Fortunately, a new law mandates more detailed reporting on forfeitures, meaning the AFPF actually had some data to work with.
Not that it’s necessarily comprehensive or accurate data. Law enforcement agencies have way more enthusiasm for inconsistently enforcing laws than they do for complying with them. A deep dive into the data performed by a Kansas news outlet found the reports delivered by agencies was incomplete, inaccurate, and outdated. It also discovered the overseer of this mandate — the Kansas Bureau of Investigation — didn’t seem to care that the information it was being given was inaccurate or incomplete.
Sometimes you just have to work with what you have, which is what the Foundation has done. What already looks pretty bad might be even worse than it appears. What it does show is it’s steady work for the state’s cops, even if it’s not really the sort of work that actually delivers results to anyone but the law enforcement agencies profiting from seizures.
The report points out the $21 million collected over the last two years is the equivalent of walking off with $13,000 of other people’s property every day. But that $13k/day takes a few hours to add up. To reduce the likelihood of losing what they’ve seized, most forfeitures involve amounts that are too small to result in serious legal challenges.
In many cases, the cost of recovering the property is greater than the value of the property seized. The Institute for Justice estimates the average cost to hire an attorney to fight a simple state forfeiture case is $3,000. Half of all seizures in the KASFR database have a value of $3,100 or less. Most people whose property has been seized by Kansas law enforcement are better off forfeiting what was taken.
This is why Kansas law enforcement agencies have been able to hold onto 91% of the property they’ve seized. And they’ve done so while securing a conviction in less than a quarter of all forfeiture cases. The small percentage who’ve managed to get their property back have engaged in protracted legal battles and endured law enforcement stonewalling. The average time from seizure to return of property in Kansas is 419 days….