Last year, all of America’s burglars extracted a total of just $3.9 billion worth of property from their cumulative marks. Pansies, the nation’s cops spit in the general direction of that paltry figure. That’s all you got?
That’s because over the same period, U.S. law enforcement officials netted $4.5 billion in goods from Americans through a process known as civil asset forfeiture, an astounding figure that economist Martin Armstrong noted on his blog last week in response to an Institute for Justice report.
Consider that for a moment: in 2014, cops took more property from Americans than burglars did.
The short rap on asset forfeiture goes like this: if you are suspected of a crime, especially a drug-related crime, police can confiscate your money or property if they believe it is related to your supposed criminal activity—often without convicting or even formally charging you. In most states, police departments are entitled to keep some or all of the seized property, giving them an obvious incentive to continue the practice. Civil forfeiture laws allow cops to take your house because your kid has a heroin problem, or take your truck just because it’s a cool-ass truck.
The $4.5 billion figure is what was left in federal asset forfeiture funds in 2014 after payouts were made to victims—including those of Bernie Madoff, whose funds accounted for $1.7 billion of the year’s seized assets, the Washington Post notes. The gross amount seized is closer to $5 billion, according to the Post, and that doesn’t even include funds from state and local departments, which are more difficult to track. On the other side, it should be noted that the $3.9 billion attributed to burglars doesn’t include larceny or other types of theft.
Still, when the cops are robbing more than the robbers, something is very wrong.