National Police Misconduct Reporting Project

The Cash Machine: Philadelphia’s Forfeiture System

From the Philadelphia City Paper:

The size of Philly’s forfeiture program isn’t just unprecedented within Pennsylvania. In 2010, for example, Kings County (Brooklyn), with a population 1.5 times that of Philadelphia, reported taking by forfeiture about $1.2 million in assets — less than one-fifth of what Philly took. Los Angeles County, with a population more than six-and-a-half times Philadelphia’s, also successfully sued to keep just $1.2 million in seized assets.

Those numbers aren’t direct comparisons: They don’t include sums collected via a federal “equitable sharing” program in which forfeitures are outsourced to federal agencies, with local law enforcement keeping most of the proceeds. But these programs also contain certain safeguards not present in Philly: Namely, federal guidelines stipulate a minimum amount for seizure of $2,000.

Philadelphia’s civil forfeiture unit, by contrast, amasses its impressive annual take by itself pursuing thousands of vastly smaller cases — and many, many more of them.

In 2010, for example, Los Angeles County’s 48 successful forfeiture cases raised about $25,000 per case. In the same year, the Philadelphia District Attorney filed more than 8,000 forfeiture cases for currency alone, for an average of just $550. In a sample of more than 100 cases from 2011 and 2012 reviewed by City Paper, the median amount was only $178. In many of these cases, the Philadelphia District Attorney sued to seize amounts less than $100.

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, in other words, isn’t just one of the most lucrative municipal  forfeiture units around; it also might be the pettiest.

Read the whole thing.

For additional background, go here.

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