Local Police in South Carolina Seized Nearly $100,000 in Crackdown, But Stopped Few Criminals

Scouring I-85 and I-26 for motorists, almost 90 officers from 21 different law enforcement agencies conducted their annual “Operation Rolling Thunder” last October in Spartanburg County, S.C. Every year, police stop well over a thousand cars as a way to combat drug trafficking and get tough on crime.

But the vast majority of drivers caught in the operation’s dragnet weren’t felons, according to a recent investigation by WSPA. Last October, officers searched 171 cars, wrote over 300 speeding tickets and issued 1,300 traffic citations in just 4 days. Out of more than 1,000 vehicles stopped, only 34 people were charged with a crime. Last year’s Operation Rolling Thunder netted only a single felony conviction and seven felony arrests; two of those cases have already been dismissed.  

Read More: Cops Use Traffic Stops To Seize Millions From Drivers Never Charged With A Crime

In addition to fighting crime, supplementing police budgets seems to be behind this operation. In 2013, police seized almost $100,000, using a tactic known as civil forfeiture. Under civil forfeiture, someone does not have to be convicted or charged with a crime to permanently lose his property. In fact, the cash seized during Rolling Thunder funds future operations. The amount of cash taken from these operations has varied wildly, ranging from $25,000 in 2012 to over $3 million in 2007, the operation’s first year.

According to the Institute for Justice’s report, “Policing for Profit,” South Carolina merited a D+ for its abysmal civil forfeiture laws. In South Carolina, the government only needs to show probable cause that the property is related to a crime to subject it to civil forfeiture. To put that in perspective, more than forty other states require more evidence for civil forfeiture cases.

Read More: Cops Seize Almost $50,000 from a Couple, Didn’t Charge Them With A Crime

Furthermore, probable cause is the same standard used for a search warrant and is far lower than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” evidentiary standard used in criminal convictions. In addition, law enforcement in South Carolina can keep up to 95 percent of the proceeds from forfeited property, leading to a perverse incentive to “police for profit,” instead of the fair administration of justice.

Click here to add your voice and help IJ end policing for profit.

— Nick Sibilla
Nick Sibilla is a writer at the Institute for Justice

Sign up to receive IJ's biweekly digital magazine, Liberty & Law along with breaking updates about our fight to protect the rights of all Americans.