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Civil Asset Forfeiture Compared to ‘Going Fishing’

“It’s really kind of like going fishing,” is how one Oklahoma District Attorney Council spokesman describes the civil asset forfeiture process. “There are times when you go fishing and the fish jump in the boat with you. There are other times you go and you can’t get them to bite anything.”

Believe it or not, he was actually making a case in support of civil asset forfeiture with the same message we often use to condemn it. The spokesman was responding to inquiries from investigative journalist Clifton Adcock who this week published a thorough report on the amount of assets seized by Oklahoma’s District Attorneys during Fiscal Year 2017.

According to his report, District Attorneys seized more than $6.2 million in cash, which is double the $3.1 million seized the previous year.  It was the highest intake since 2000. However, the $6.2 million may be just the tip of the iceberg as seizures from the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics, the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office, the Department of Public Safety, and federal agencies were not included in the report.

We reached out to Clifton Adcock to discuss his methodology and findings.  “There is a certain level of counter-intuitiveness about law enforcement agencies themselves generating millions in revenue from the illicit drug operations they’re fighting against,” Adcock says.  “The amounts of cash forfeited in some districts outside the major cities was also interesting, as was how the money was spent – most of it went to personnel, other agencies, office expenses or legal costs, with very little going toward prevention and education. More money was spent to pay confidential informants than on drug prevention programs. That’s not to say how they’re spending it is wrong, but it does show where those resources going.”

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