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‘Policing for Profit’ in Philadelphia Comes to an End

For decades, the city’s police department confiscated the property and cash of criminal suspects, even without convicting them of a crime, and used those seized assets to pay their salaries and buy equipment. No more.
Philadelphia Police Captain John Ryan
Philadelphia Police Captain John RyanMatt Rourke/AP

The era of profit-driven policing may be drawing to a close in Philadelphia now that the city has agreed to considerably scale back its policies on when and how police can seize private property from civilians. Up until now, Philadelphia police could confiscate a person’s cash, car, or house—evicting people with little notice—if there was suspicion that the person might be associated with a crime.

Called civil asset forfeiture and dubbed by opponents as “policing for profit”, the practice was a mechanism for padding police coffers and salaries with the funds generated from these confiscations. Meanwhile, the person whose assets were taken would have to prove they were innocent of whatever crime they were suspected of to begin a cumbersome process for reclaiming their property. In one case, Norys Hernandez almost lost her home to police after they arrested her nephew on a drug violation that she was unaware of.