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Study says asset forfeitures increase with weak economy, but fail to fight crime


A new study says civil asset forfeiture programs don't help police fight crime. The Institute for Justice says money police departments raise from asset seizures don't lead to less drug use or more solved crimes. The libertarian group also found when the economy weakens, police seize more property.

"Specifically, the study found, for every one percent increase in unemployment there's a nine percent increase in forfeiture," said Lee McGrath, an attorney for the Institute of Justice.

Forfeiture is when law enforcement seizes property it believes is involved in a crime. 

The study shows from 2001 to 2013, Michigan agencies took in more than $244 million from forfeited properties. "Law enforcement agencies, both police and prosecutors, pursue forfeiture in communities of economic distress as a way of raising revenue," McGrath said.

Michigan recently passed a law that requires a criminal convictions before property valued at under $50,000 can be forfeited civilly. However, the Institute for Justice say there is a loophole: It does not apply to cases in which no one filed a claim for the property. The Institute says two-thirds of all forfeiture cases in 2017 did not have a claimant come forward. McGrath said more changes to the law are needed.

An official with Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police says forfeiture takes the profit out of drug dealing.

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