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What is a Police Auction?

Leigia Rosales
Updated May 16, 2024
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Police departments confiscate an enormous amount of property during the normal course of investigations and arrests. Some of the property becomes the property of the state through legal forfeiture proceedings, while other property becomes the state's property because the owner never reclaims it and it is eventually considered abandoned property. In order to get rid of the property that accumulates over time, law enforcement agencies often hold a public police auction with the proceeds going to support further law enforcement efforts.

When a person is arrested, all of his or her personal belongings must be placed into the property room at the police station. In addition, if the person was arrested while driving, then the vehicle is often impounded. Evidence may also be collected from a person's vehicle, home, or business, and held until a case is adjudicated. Evidence may be anything from documents to contraband, to computers or electronic equipment. All of this property may wind up belonging to the state or federal government over time and therefore be available for purchase through a police auction.

Property that was held as evidence but ultimately released when the case terminates may never be claimed by the defendant and therefore is considered abandoned property. The same frequently happens with vehicles that are impounded. In some cases, the towing and storage fees are more than the defendant can afford to pay and therefore the vehicle is never claimed.

Forfeit property follows a different route in order to become the property of the government. A civil lawsuit separate from the criminal charges is filed claiming that the property was purchased with the proceeds of illegal activities. If the lawsuit is successful, then the property is legally forfeit to the government and eligible for police auction.

How often a police auction is held depends on the jurisdiction. In larger metropolitan areas, auctions may be held as often as once a month. In smaller areas, a police auction may only be held once every few months or yearly. Notice of upcoming auctions can generally be found on the law enforcement's website or by calling the agency. Police auctions are open to the public, although preregistration may be required.

The auction is held in much the same way than any auction is conducted. Items are bid on by the participants with the high bidder winning the item. At most police auctions, payment is due in cash or guaranteed funds at the time of the auction; however, for large ticket items, such as vehicles or boats, the winning bidder may have 24 to 48 hours to arrange for payment.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Leigia Rosales
By Leigia Rosales , Former Writer
Leigia Rosales is a former attorney turned freelance writer. With a law degree and a background in legal practice, she crafts compelling content that informs and engages readers. Her ability to understand complex topics and communicate them effectively makes her a valuable asset to any content creation team.

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Discussion Comments

By Feryll — On Dec 21, 2014

@Laotionne - A friend just told me about online police auctions where you don't have to spend all day at an actual auction site. I have done online auctions previously, but I am still learning exactly how police auctions work.

By Drentel — On Dec 20, 2014

@Laotionne - With any kind of auction you never know what kind of deal you will get, but you might as well take the chance. All you have to lose is time and you could get a good car if things workout.

By Animandel — On Dec 19, 2014

@Laotionne - A couple years ago, my husband saw an ad in the newspaper for an upcoming police auction. The newspaper listed some of the items that would be up for sale. They even had pictures of some of the more impressive items. That's where my husband saw a picture of an old farm tractor that had been restored to look pretty much like it had when it rolled off the assembly line, I guess.

Anyway, my husband decided he had to have this tractor, and he was under the impression the tractor would be sold for way below the actual value since it was being sold at a police auction. So we got out early on a Saturday morning and went to the auction.

Neither of us knew a thing about police auctions, but I had been to estate sale auctions, and this auction was the most disorganized event I had ever been to. We had no idea when the tractor would be sold, so we waited all day for it to finally come up. There were at least five other people bidding on the tractor and the price quickly went beyond what our budget would allow us to pay.

By Laotionne — On Dec 18, 2014

Has anyone out there ever gotten a really good deal at a police auction. My friend told me I should go to a police car auction to find a car to replace my current vehicle, which has definitely seen better days.

Leigia Rosales

Leigia Rosales

Former Writer

Leigia Rosales is a former attorney turned freelance writer. With a law degree and a background in legal practice, she...
Learn more
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