This news article from Iowa is pretty typical in its description of how forfeiture works, but this part jumped out at me:
The public safety department recorded nearly $2.9 million in seized cash in 2010. That was down by $1.7 million from the previous year, but almost three times more than in 2007. The numbers fluctuate greatly from year-to- year, officials note.
Most of the cash seized in Iowa is found by state troopers on Interstate 80, officials said. Multiple agencies are usually involved, but no statewide database is kept for all seizures, because all departments keep their own records.
If agencies keep their own records, I’m fairly certain the numbers cited in the first paragraph are incomplete. My own research in Missouri indicates that even when counties are required by law to report all forfeitures to a central state agency, many forfeitures slip through the institutional cracks and down the memory hole. Every year, a number of counties fail to even file a report with Missouri state auditor. Maybe those counties didn’t forfeit any property, but the public has no way of knowing that for certain.
I disapprove of civil asset forfeiture, period, but if we must put up with such a medieval practice, its use should at least be open and transparent to the public.