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May Wilkerson May Wilkerson

Video: How 9/11 Led to More Drug and Cash Seizures on US Highways

More aggressive policing of American highways has led to more than $2.5 billion seized from innocent motorists. And much of it goes back into funding the system.

5 Substance

Highway policing has ramped up sharply since the terror attacks on September 11, 2001, when the government called on law enforcement to seek out “suspicious” people, drugs and contraband more aggressively. Since then, billions of dollars in cash has been taken from motorists and others not charged with crimes, according to an investigation by the Washington Post.

And much of this cash flows straight into the law enforcement system—millions have been spent on training local officers and state troopers to police the roads. One training firm has even created an online private intelligence network where officers share private information about American motorists, and compete amongst each other to see who can seize the most cash and drugs, frequently sharing “trophy shots” of their seizures. The Post estimates that there have been 61,998 unwarranted cash seizures since 9/11, totaling more than $2.5 billion. About $1.7 billion was sent back to law enforcement agencies for their use.

Thousands of people have been involved in legal battles trying to get their money back. Some of them are featured in this video—like Mandrel Stuart, 35, a small-business owner from Virginia who had $17,550 confiscated in 2012 by cops who pulled him over for a minor traffic infraction. He says he eventually got the cash back but lost his business because of the money he had to spend on legal fees.