About this story
The Washington Post relied on an array of materials to explore the rise of civil seizures in recent years, with a particular focus on highway seizures made by state and local police. For details about seizures and the techniques employed by police, reporters reviewed more than 400 federal court cases in which owners of cash filed legal appeals to get it back. The Post also examined some seizures made under state forfeiture laws.
Through Freedom of Information Act requests, The Post obtained a database from the Justice Department containing details about 212,000 seizures since 1996 through the Equitable Sharing Program, the federal government’s largest asset forfeiture effort.
Justice officials did not release data that pinpointed the geographic location of each seizure, so it is impossible to identify precisely how many seizures occur during traffic stops. To focus on roadside stops, The Post looked at cases that were not made at businesses and that occurred without warrants or indictments: 61,998 seizures have met those criteria since Sept. 11, 2001. That group of cases was then compared to a list obtained by The Post of 1,654 departments and agencies with officers who are members of an unofficial police intelligence network known as the Black Asphalt Electronic Networking & Notification System that is focused on highway stops and seizures.
The Post also obtained more than 43,000 Justice Department reports from state and local police departments across the country that participated in Equitable Sharing, along with records provided by the Institute for Justice, a nonprofit civil liberties group, to assess how seizures contribute to department budgets.