When Law Enforcement Pays: Costs and Benefits for Elected Versus Appointed Administrators Engaged in Asset Forfeiture

Siân Mughan, Danyao Li, Sean Nicholson-Crotty

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


The billions of dollars in assets seized by law enforcement each year represent a crucial source of revenue for these organizations, but also raise important constitutional questions and can create significant tensions within the jurisdictions they administer. Research on asset forfeiture to date has focused heavily on municipal police, largely neglecting forfeiture activities by sheriffs. Thus, it has missed an important opportunity to build theory about the differences between appointed and elected administrators and neglected an important source of institutional variation that may help to explain this particular administrative activity. To develop expectations about the relative levels of asset forfeiture and the response to intergovernmental incentives related to forfeiture, we draw on and extend scholarship comparing the behavior of elected versus appointed administrators in other settings. We test those expectations in analyses of more than 1,200 sheriff’s offices and over 2,200 municipal police departments between 1993 and 2007. Results suggest that sheriffs receive less forfeiture revenue than municipal police and are less responsive to state-level policies that change the financial rewards of asset forfeiture for agencies. These results hold whether we examine forfeitures made through the federal Equitable Sharing Program, where civil and criminal forfeiture cases can be distinguished, or jurisdictional level data on forfeiture, where civil and criminal forfeitures are combined. We conclude with a discussion of implications for both the research on asset forfeiture and on elected versus appointed public administrators more generally.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)297-314
Number of pages18
JournalAmerican Review of Public Administration
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 1 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • asset forfeiture
  • electoral motivation
  • method of selection
  • revenue-orientated policing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration
  • Marketing


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