State and local law enforcement agencies in states that direct that seized assets go into the state general fund -- instead of into the hands of the seizing agency -- are increasingly turning their booty over to the federal government in a bid to keep their hands on the loot, according to a new report from the libertarian-leaning Institute for Justice. So-called "equitable sharing" between local cops and the feds nearly doubled between 2000 and 2008, from slightly more than $200 million to $400 million.
"These results demonstrate not only that federal equitable sharing is a loophole that state and local law enforcement use to circumvent strict state laws, but also that pursuit of profit is a significant motivator in civil forfeiture actions," the report found. "Simply put, when laws make civil forfeiture easier and more profitable, law enforcement engages in more of it."
The report also grades the 50 states on how well asset forfeiture laws protect the rights of citizens and provides an "evasion grade" measuring the degree to which state and local law enforcement bypass limits in state laws in order to keep the profits from seized assets for themselves. It was a dismal exercise, with only three states -- Maine, North Dakota, and Vermont -- receiving a combined grade of B or higher. The other 47 states all received C's or D's.
The lowest-graded states overall, with both poor laws and aggressive resort to "equitable sharing," are Georgia, Michigan, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.