Arizona’s Profit Incentive in Civil Forfeiture
Arizona’s Profit Incentive in Civil Forfeiture:
Dangerous for law enforcement; Dangerous for Arizonans
By Tim Keller, Diana Simpson, and Dick M. Carpenter II, Ph.D.
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There are three primary problems with Arizona’s civil forfeiture laws that need to be addressed by the legislature.
Problem 1: Policing for Profit
The first problem is the profit incentive that Arizona’s civil forfeiture laws inject into policing and prosecutorial decisions. In Arizona, law enforcement personnel have a strong incentive to seize as much property as they can because they keep up to 90 percent of the funds raised through civil forfeitures. Allowing police and prosecutor to wield both the purse and the sword threatens the fair and impartial administration of justice, endangers private property rights, and can place police officers in unnecessary jeopardy. Forfeiture proceeds are used for a variety of expenditures, ranging from equipment to travel to salaries, benefits and overtime. Over the time period examined in this paper, law enforcement increased its forfeiture revenue almost 400 percent—from $11.8 million in 2000 to $50.1 million in 2011. These large and increasing sums give reason to worry that forfeiture has become, or is becoming, a way for law enforcement agencies to self-fund outside the normal budgetary process. This concern is magnified by the fact that the largest category of forfeiture expenditures is on personnel. Only two states— Arizona and Texas—permit forfeiture funds to be used for direct salaries.
The profit incentive also endangers law enforcement personnel...