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Michael Haugen | April 8, 2016
Right on Crime just hosted a policy primer—in conjunction with the Charles Koch Institute—that examined new data demonstrating “how much” and “where” civil asset forfeiture occurs in Texas.
The primer, entitled “Civil Asset Forfeiture: Where and When Does It Occur,” brought together various policy experts from both Texas and elsewhere who provided the origins of modern asset forfeiture, and described how the practice has begun exceeding its purported mission—a tool of law enforcement whereby ill-gotten gains are taken and repurposed to fight crime—by ensnaring innocent property owners who have never been charged with a crime.
Specifically, conversation of the panel centered on a new report showing visual representations of forfeiture activity throughout Texas, by way of heat maps. As a result of using what limited forfeiture data is collected by the Office of the Attorney General annually, Derek Cohen, deputy director of Right on Crime and author of the report, has been able to show that, when controlled for population density, a disproportionate amount of per-capita forfeiture proceedings and related expenditures are occurring outside of major urban centers:
“…Dividing the amount of summary activity by the number of residents in the population shows that, per capita, rural areas use forfeiture more than larger cities. When taking into account population density, the picture of forfeiture use in Texas changes dramatically. While major metropolitan areas still show sustained use of forfeiture, the volume of their accounts and spending are more muted when examined on a dollar-per-resident basis.
Rural jurisdictions show higher per-capita forfeiture use and expenditure than populous areas. Part of this is due to the low denominator used in the calculation. So while this finding is not revelatory per se, it highlights an alarming parallel to problematic trends seen elsewhere.
While this represents only one year of observations, it is apparent that many rural agencies are wont to spend more per-capita, a proxy for their accessible tax base, than are larger departments. These jurisdictions are almost uniformly located along highways of varying size, and can reasonably be expected to fill their forfeiture coffers through roadside interdiction.
A major implication of this research—and a conclusion drawn by the panel—is the observation that rural agencies seem to be leveraging their forfeiture activity as a source of extra-appropriations revenue, as opposed to being a tool of law enforcement to fight crime.
Archived video for the event can be found here (panel starts at 20:40).