For federal state and local law enforcement agencies, a little-known practice giving them the power to take Americans’ property, cash, and cars has proven to be a boon over the last decade.

According to a new report from the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm, the federal government has seen a substantial increase over the last 13 years in the amount of money deposited into forfeiture funds governed by the Departments of Justice and Treasury—the two federal agencies that typically conduct forfeitures.

Net Assets in the Justice Department and Treasury Department's Forfeiture Funds (Chart: Institute for Justice)

In 2014, the Institute for Justice found that net assets, or what’s left over after expenditures, into the agencies’ forfeiture funds reached $4.5 billion—an increase of more than 4,600 percent from 1986, when the Justice Department’s fund was first created. Net assets in the Justice Department’s and Treasury Department’s forfeiture funds first topped $1 billion in 2007 and have moved upward steadily over the last seven years.

Additionally, from 2001 to 2014, the Justice Department and Treasury Department deposited a combined $29 billion in their respective forfeiture funds, the Institute for Justice found.

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