Last year, the practice brought the state’s law enforcement agencies more than $115 million, according to government figures.
Policing groups argue that it’s an essential tool in combating drug trafficking.
Critics say it’s been misused to generate revenue, in some cases from suspects never convicted of wrongdoing.
That was part of the reason for a California law that went into effect this year tightening civil forfeiture rules.
A spokeswoman for U.C. Berkeley’s campus police, Sgt. Sabrina Reich, said in an email that it was “routine to seize money as evidence of an illegal transaction.”
The money, she explained, is needed as evidence.
That rationale drew skepticism from some criminal justice experts.
“If the hot dog vendor is operating without a permit, the proper mechanism is to give him a ticket,” said Lee McGrath, senior legislative counsel at the Institute for Justice, a public-interest law firm that has been critical of civil forfeiture practices.