Civil Liberties

Vid: Bad Rules Make Bad Cops—Bart Wilson on The Economics of Civil Forfeiture


"When you give [police] the power of civil asset forfeiture, they've got to choose between themselves or the public," says experimental economist Bart Wilson. "Why do we want to put them in that position?"

Wilson, a professor of economics at Chapman University, and his co-author Michael Preciado designed a study to reveal how the incentives set forth under civil forfeiture affect human behavior. In the study, one undergraduate student plays the role of law enforcement in a computer game, and three others play the roles of the public. Subjects played for real money, and Wilson says the results were overwhelming.

"It's not a few people just abusing it. This is the modal tendency: to abuse," says Wilson, who points out that subjects are more likely than not to help others in games when there's no financial cost of doing so. "For me, that's pretty strong evidence that it's the rules that are creating the incentives for them to police for profit."

To see a fuller explanation of the study's methodology and its results, watch the video above. Click the link below for full text, associated links, and downloadable versions.

Approximately 8 minutes. Produced by Zach Weissmueller. Camera by Alex Manning.