In 1984, Congress passed the Comprehensive Crime Control Act (“CCCA”). This law was passed at a time when crime rates, particularly drug-related crimes, were rising nationally. The CCCA provided, in part, that law enforcement agencies could seize the overwhelming majority of assets of individuals suspected of criminal activity. In fact, the CCCA allowed law enforcement to seize up to three times what they could seize from criminal suspects under then-existing state laws. In 2014, the last year for which data is available, local police agencies seized about $4.5 billion in assets. The majority of these assets were turned over to the federal government; however, the relatively small portion given back to local police departments subsidized about 20% of their budgets. The CCCA also gave police departments something of a windfall that paid for equipment and the establishment of narcotics task forces.
It was later found that over the decade following its passage, the CCCA resulted in a decline in crime rates of about 17% in jurisdictions where it was applied. Obviously, this was something that relatively few people would fault, particularly in light of the fact that the law grew from a perception that crime rates were out of control. However, new information concerning the long-term effects of the CCCA – particularly the manner in which it influences law enforcement priorities – recently became available. This material should be of interest to anyone who seriously tracks trends in law enforcement activities.
According to a recent study prepared by professors at Florida State University (“FSU”), the asset forfeiture system established by the CCCA has had unintended consequences over time. First, it has apparently caused law enforcement to heavily target drug-related offenses. It has also apparently motivated local police to focus their efforts in poorer urban areas where it is easier to make drug-related arrests that frequently result in the seizure of assets. In some instances, the assets seized may amount only to a few hundred dollars. It can, however, add up very quickly if enough people are arrested. Continue reading