The federal government’s take through civil asset forfeitures of criminal suspects has grown exponentially reports the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram. In 2013, the federal government collected more than $2 billion in cash and other assets from suspects. That was down from the peak of $4.18 billion in 2012, but more than four times the $478.7 million seized in 2003. A portion of the federal bounty is shared with state and local agencies that collaborate with the feds.
Police make the initial decision on seizure at the time of an arrest but can keep the items regardless of whether the suspect is charged or convicted later. The practice has been around for many years but picked up dramatically in 1984 during the war on drugs, when Congress allowed the federal government to take property — and keep the proceeds — even if the owner was never charged. In 2011, both Congress and the Texas Legislature enacted laws intended to improve transparency on how the seized funds are used. Texas put its reforms in place after a 2008 Senate Committee on Criminal Justice report said that seizures had become “a profit-making, personal account for some law-enforcement officials,” who allegedly used funds for alcohol at parties, campaign expenses and a training trip to Hawaii.