The police are supposed to serve and protect, keeping you safe and arresting criminals. Instead, they may arrest you for something that you know you didn’t do and confiscate your car and other assets that they say were connected to that illegal activity. Even if you are eventually released and the charges are dropped, they may not return your property. For that matter, they may take your property just on the “suspicion” that you’re about to do something illegal — and never even bother to charge you.

How can this happen? Can this possibly be legal? Aren’t the police essentially robbing you?

It may feel that way, but this is legal. It’s called asset forfeiture, and reports claim that it puts millions of dollars into police department budgets every year. In addition to cars and cash, police also take things like jewelry and even entire homes.

For example, an officer may pull you over for a minor traffic violation and then, somehow, discover that you happen to be traveling with a large amount of cash. The explanation that you’re heading on vacation to a local (legal) casino doesn’t seem plausible to the officer, who decides that you must really be intending to buy drugs with all that cash. Your cash — and maybe your car — are then seized for being part of the drug trade. You aren’t charged with an actual crime because there’s no evidence against you.

Even if you did nothing wrong, the police can still use that suspicion to justify taking your assets under rather broad “asset forfeiture” laws that were designed to combat drug trafficking and organize crime. Many say that these laws have allowed dishonest police units to victimize absolutely anybody — because the money and good that they seize can go right into the police department’s coffers.

Something like this can make you question everything you know about the justice system and the United States as a whole. You no longer feel like a citizen with equal rights and legal protections. You feel like the system has taken advantage of you.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to make things right. Be sure that you know exactly what they are and how to proceed. Don’t attempt to handle a situation like this alone because being innocent of wrongdoing simply doesn’t matter where asset forfeiture is concerned.