Under forfeiture laws, law enforcement organizations seize billions of dollars a year from U.S. citizens based on demonstrated or suspected connections between the assets and criminal activity. Interest groups have argued that taking of assets through forfeiture intentionally and disproportionately targets communities of color, but scholars have not sufficiently explored this relationship. In order to address this gap, we draw on racial threat theory to develop the expectation that the growth of black and Hispanic populations within a community will correlate positively with the amount of asset forfeiture, and representative bureaucracy theory to develop the hypothesis that greater representation of a particular minority group on the police force will negatively moderate that relationship. We test these hypotheses in an analysis of 2,278 municipal police departments between 1993 and 2007, finding evidence of a significant relationship between minority population share and reported forfeiture revenue. Furthermore, we find that increasing the proportion of black and Hispanic officers negatively moderates that relationship. We believe the results have implications not only for the U.S., but also for other nations with asset forfeiture regimes and more broadly for our understanding of the ways in which law enforcement organizations respond to diverse populations and the moderating impact of representation on those responses.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Business and International Management
- Public Administration