For Profit Policing

‘For-Profit’ Policing describes police practices that add revenue to police departments, typically at the expense of taxpayers or anyone accused of a crime.

Civil Asset Forfeiture

Civil asset forfeiture is a process by which police officers confiscate an individual’s cash and/or property assets when they believe that those assets are linked to a crime. Oftentimes, this happens before the asset owner is convicted of the crime. Citizens are typically required to prove that their property/possessions/money were not related to a crime in order to reclaim their belongings. If these assets are not reclaimed by their original owners,  police hold  those items and/or receive a substantial portion of the proceeds of the sale of those items. These policies are especially harmful for low-income and minority groups, who may be racially profiled in the seizure of their assets and may not have the time, energy, and money for legal fees to reclaim the ‘forfeited’ items. (Harvard Law Review)


Many police departments institute formal or informal requirements for the quantity of tickets and arrests issued per month. These requirements undermine trust in police officers’ motivations and create perverse incentives within the department. In NYC, 12 police officers filed a class action lawsuit (and were profiled in the documentary ‘Crime and Punishment’) because they were so troubled by the racial impacts of informal department quotas. Furthermore, recent studies suggest that “police departments in cities that collect a greater share of their revenue from fees solve violent and property crimes at significantly lower rates” (Urban Affairs Review).

Cost of Misconduct

According to a 2016 study in the UCLA Law review of 210 police departments varying in size, only half of police departments studied financially contribute to the settlement of lawsuits brought against them. Requiring police departments to contribute to misconduct costs creates a political ramification and financial incentive for police departments to appropriately discipline officers before their misconduct leads to a lawsuit.

Success Stories

In 2015, New Mexico’s state legislature unanimously passed the New Mexico Forfeiture Act banning civil asset forfeiture after the Institute for Justice received leaked recordings of law enforcement officials describing effective forfeiture documents as ‘masters of deception’ and highlighting their 96% success rate. Despite the state legislation, several cities,including Albuquerque, refused to comply. In December 2018, the city was taken to court over their vehicle seizure ordinance, where the practice was unanimously determined to be unconstitutional. This case led Santa Fe, another non-compliant city to end its similarly unconstitutional program. The strength of the state legislation ensured that residents in every city in New Mexico would be protected from the often abused power of civil asset forfeiture. (Forbes)

Hopes for the Future

When decisions about policing are disentangled from profit, everyone wins. Community members get to keep their hard earned money and property, police feel less pressure to arrest, and local tax funds are spent on community development as intended.