The Size of the Forfeitures


As the Stephen Hopkins Center brief (PDF) mentioned in this space yesterday explains, the actual amounts of cash and property that law enforcement agencies seize aren’t huge on a case-by-case basis, bringing into question the assertion by supporters of forfeiture that this power is central to disrupting cartels and kingpins.  Out of curiosity, I put together this chart of the amount of money forfeited to Rhode Island law enforcement agencies in 2016.  (That is, money the agencies got to keep.)

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Consistent with the Hopkins Center brief, these results don’t show an obvious focus on major busts.  The largest number of cases (45) involved cash amounts in the $1,000 to $1,500 range.  Sure, that’s a good bit of money for a person to be carrying around in cash, but that could just be proof of the complaint from anecdotes around the country — namely, that law enforcement is considering having a good amount of cash to be suspicious activity of itself.  But money in this range could be intended for benign things like buying a used car or preparing to go on vacation.

Note, by the way, that these bars use the ranges from the Hopkins Center report.  If we were to break them out by even $500 increments, the largest group would be $501-1,000, which even less suggestive of big-time drug dealers.