Profits of Policing: Arizona asset seizures net $200M in past five years
State laws allowed Arizona law enforcement agencies to seize nearly $200 million in personal property during the past five years – almost all of it cash – from people who may never be charged or convicted of a crime, but systemic gaps in oversight make it difficult to see how they spent much of that money.
Regulation of the program is inconsistent, and the reports designed to inform government officials about how and when the money is used are often missing data.
After analyzing more than 1,300 quarterly financial reports filed by agencies detailing seizures and expenditures from fiscal years 2011 through 2015, AZCIR found that the state commission tasked with compiling statewide civil asset forfeiture figures omitted roughly $20 million, or 16 percent of overall spending, from its reports.
Vague expenditure descriptions also keep the public in the dark about the program. Of what is reported, roughly half of the money spent went to pay police salaries and cover “other operating” expenses. While advocates argue this helps police departments deal with budget cuts, critics of the system say this creates a perverse set of incentives for both law enforcement agencies and the elected officials who set their budgets.