Steven Greenhut on Asset Forfeiture and 'Policing for Profit'



In 2008, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms received bad publicity after it handed out to employees pocketknives engraved with "ATF" spelled out: Always Think Forfeiture. The agency was, in essence, caught encouraging its employees to seize as much property as possible under controversial civil asset-forfeiture programs. ATF stopped giving out the pocketknives, but federal, state and local agencies have come to depend increasingly on seized assets to bolster their budgets. Many new "toys" departments buy — fancy new vehicles, military style equipment, weaponry and gadgets — are funded this way. Until laws change, writes Steven Greenhut, maybe someone can give police officials pocketknives with the inscription: Always Think Fairness.