In 2008 the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives asked for bids from private contractors on 2,000 Leatherman pocket knives for its agents, to be inscribed with the phrase “Always Think Forfeiture,” a play on the agency’s traditional “ATF” initials. The agency rescinded the order after it was reported in the Idaho Statesman, but critics said it betrayed the ethic of an organization more interested in taking people’s property than in fighting crime.
The Forfeiture Racket
In a 2001 study published in the Journal of Criminal Justice, the University of Texas at Dallas criminologist John Worral surveyed 1,400 police departments around the country on their use of forfeiture and the way they incorporated seized assets into their budgets. Worral, who describes himself as agnostic on the issue, concluded that “a substantial proportion of law enforcement agencies are dependent on civil asset forfeiture” and that “forfeiture is coming to be viewed not only as a budgetary supplement, but as a necessary source of income.” Almost half of surveyed police departments with more than 100 law enforcement personnel said forfeiture proceeds were “necessary as a budget supplement” for department operations.