Philadelphia’s Civil Forfeiture Machine Facts and Figures

The Size and Scope of Philadelphia’s Civil Forfeiture Machine

  • In 2011 alone, Philadelphia filed 6,560 civil forfeiture petitions. By contrast, Allegheny County (the second largest county in Pennsylvania, where Pittsburgh is located) filed roughly 200 civil forfeiture petitions from 2008-2011.
  • Each year, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office files civil forfeiture petitions against 300 to 500 homes and other real properties.
  • In 2010, Philadelphia filed more than 8,200 cash-forfeiture cases worth an average of $550 each. A sample of more than 100 cases from 2011 to 2012 reveals that the median amount of cash seized was only $178.

The Revenue Philadelphia’s Civil Forfeiture Machine Rakes in

  • From 2002 to 2014, Philadelphia averaged $5.6 million in annual civil forfeiture revenue.
  • Philadelphia’s forfeiture machine raked in over $72 million from 2002 to 2014. By contrast, during that same time all of Pennsylvania’s 66 other counties took in $102 million combined.
  • Although Philadelphia’s population is smaller than Brooklyn, New York and Los Angeles County, it brings in twice as much civil forfeiture revenue as these two combined.
  • From 2002 through 2014, Philadelphia seized and forfeited 1,248 homes and other real properties, 3,531 automobiles and other vehicles and over $50 million in cash.

How Philadelphia Spends Its Civil Forfeiture Proceeds

  • On average, Philadelphia’s forfeiture machine revenue equals almost 20 percent of the Philadelphia DA’s general budget.
  • Philadelphia spends over 35 percent of its forfeiture revenue on salaries, including the salaries of the very officials doing the seizing and forfeiting.
  • From 2002 to 2014, Philadelphia spent almost twice as much forfeiture revenue on salaries ($12,315,340.43) as all other Pennsylvania counties combined ($15,712,597.91).
  • Philadelphia spends none of its forfeiture revenue on community-based drug programs.

Philadelphia’s Civil Forfeiture Machine Stacks the Deck Against Property Owners

  • A review of more than 8,000 civil forfeiture cases revealed that property owners have been forced to return to Courtroom 478 five times on average before their cases were completed.
  • More than 100 property owners had to return to Courtroom 478 ten times or more, risking a default judgment if they failed to appear just once.

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