A Look at Cash Seizures by Federal Agencies

In the 1980s, the federal government created the Asset Forfeiture Fund and Equitable Sharing program to “take the profit out of crime” as part of its war on drugs. Since then, the use of asset seizure and forfeiture has increased. To identify potential trends in cash seizure and forfeiture, we looked at data from the Department of Justice on cash and currency seizure by federal agencies from 2004 to mid 2015. 

From 2004 to 2007, the total amount of cash seized increased from approximately $100 million to $1 billion. After a dip in 2008, the amount of cash seized remained fairly level between 2009 and 2012 before increasing to $975 million 2013. Cash seizures declined in 2014 to $585 million, and this trend seems to continue into the first quarter of 2015. 

Total Cash Amount Seized

We looked at the total amount of cash seized by state year over year. In the map, the red areas show a higher amount of cash seized and blue shows a lower amount. Unsurprisingly, we see that states with higher populations, such as California, Texas, and New York, typically have higher amounts of cash seized year over year.  

However, there are a few exceptions to this. In both 2007 and 2012, Virginia had the most cash seized with over $310M and $205M respectively. In 2007, the FDA seized over $275M in Virginia across three different seizures. In 2012, the United States Attorney’s Office seized over $200M in Virginia across 39 seizures. In 2009, Indiana comes in at a close second to California with $103M in cash seized that year. Over $100M of those seizures (or 96%) in Indiana come from a single seizure made by the FDA. 

Looking at Per Capita Cash Amounts

The second piece of data we looked at was the cash amount per capita by state. In the per capita map, we can clearly see a more dispersed view of the cash amount seized in each state.  While California, Texas, and New York may have dominated for the total cash amount seized, some of the less populated states exceed the per capita amount of the most populated states.

Looking at 2005, 2006, and 2008, we see quite a few states in the Midwest, Southwest, and South with higher per capita amounts. For instance, Nebraska has the highest per capita amount in 2008 at $5.72. Virginia and South Carolina had some of the highest per capita amounts. In 2007, the per capita amount in Virgina was over $40, and five years later, the amount was over $25. In 2013 in South Carolina, the per capita amount was close to $20. 

Frequency of Cash Seizures Across States

Another interesting piece of data to look at is the number of seizures across states. While the total cash amount illustrated which states had a lot of cash seized, it did not provide information on which states had a high frequency of cash seizures. In the map below, California has the most number of seizures every year from 2005 to 2015. The number of seizures in California is frequently double or triple the number in Texas or New York for a given year. 

Changing the map to look at the number of seizures per 100,000 residents tells a different story. While California still has average or high numbers, less populous states, such as Vermont and Nebraska, frequently have much higher numbers. In 2013, Vermont had 13 cash seizures per 100,000 residents for a total of 79 seizures that year. 70 of those seizures were made by the DEA and resulted in over $500k in cash seized.

In absolute terms, the most populous states, such as California and New York, typically had the most cash seized and the highest number of seizures. However, looking at those metrics on a relative scale shows that smaller states typically have a larger number of seizures and higher amount of cash seized on a per resident basis. 

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