Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Asset Forfeiture

Response Guide No. 7 (2008)

by John L. Worrall

Introduction

Designed to weaken the economic foundations of the illicit drug trade, asset forfeiture laws allow for the seizure (and eventual forfeiture) of property connected with criminal activity.1 Supporters of the practice see it as an essential law enforcement tool.2 Forfeiture has also helped generate considerable revenue for police agencies.

Today there are literally hundreds of federal and state forfeiture laws3, and such laws continue to be enacted at near record levels. This response guide explains the advantages and disadvantages to police of using asset forfeiture as a response to various crime problems. It also reviews several of the possible novel uses of forfeiture.

To be of practical use, this guide also examines legal arrangements from state to state and discusses steps agencies can take to improve the prospects of receiving forfeiture proceeds. It concludes with a brief how-to guide that agencies should consider when deciding to launch an asset forfeiture program.

Target Audience

The target audience for this response guide is, first and foremost, any law enforcement official who is contemplating starting an asset forfeiture program in his or her agency. This guide also serves as a refresher for those currently engaged in the practice. Finally, researchers and others who are interested in the issues surrounding asset forfeiture should find this guide helpful.

The Need for Forfeiture

For many years law enforcement agencies around the nation have faced shrinking budgets.4 Police administrators have been forced to develop creative budgeting strategies, such as securing federal grants and partnering with community foundations.5 Though it is an enforcement tool, asset forfeiture can assist in the budgeting realm by helping to offset the costs associated with fighting crime. Doing what it takes to undermine the illicit drug trade is expensive and time-consuming. Forfeiture can help agencies target these difficult problems, sometimes without the need to seek additional outside resources to offset their costs.