Asset Forfeiture

For Philly, Forfeiture is a Lucrative Revenue Source

Just call it legalized theft

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The size of Philly's forfeiture program isn't just unprecedented within Pennsylvania. In 2010, for example, Kings County (Brooklyn), with a population 1.5 times that of Philadelphia, reported taking by forfeiture about $1.2 million in assets — less than one-fifth of what Philly took. Los Angeles County, with a population more than six-and-a-half times Philadelphia's, also successfully sued to keep just $1.2 million in seized assets.

Those numbers aren't direct comparisons: They don't include sums collected via a federal "equitable sharing" program in which forfeitures are outsourced to federal agencies, with local law enforcement keeping most of the proceeds. But these programs also contain certain safeguards not present in Philly: Namely, federal guidelines stipulate a minimum amount for seizure of $2,000.

Philadelphia's civil forfeiture unit, by contrast, amasses its impressive annual take by itself pursuing thousands of vastly smaller cases — and many, many more of them.

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