Police in England and Wales do not make enough use of powers to seize money and property from criminals, a report says.
Confiscating money from drug dealers could stop burglaries
A Home Office review of the Proceeds of Crime Act said chances to hit criminals in their pockets were sometimes missed.
Under the Act, if police can persuade the courts people they have convicted are living on money from crime, they can seize their cash, cars and houses.
The report said the Act's measures were still a mystery to many in the criminal justice system, particularly police.
"Asset recovery, confiscation and money laundering are still widely regarded as highly complex and specialised activities, divorced from mainstream business, and hence in many police forces have remained the preserve of financial investigation specialists," it said.
Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary Kate Flannery said Home Secretary David Blunkett would write to all chief constables to urge them to make the most of the new laws.
Six of 43 police forces launched 75% of cases using new money laundering powers
20 forces did not use the money laundering powers at all
Confiscation orders under the act fell from £120m in 2002/3 to £81m last year
Cash seized ranged from £13,000 in one force to over £7m in another
There were 422 cash seizures in 2003/4 totalling £16.7m
Confiscation orders exceeded £40,000 in 2003/4
She said police carried out 895,000 stop and searches last year, some of which could have generated cash seizures.
"The total value of crime in Britain is estimated to be £18bn a year.
"You don't have to go too far into exploring figures to find out how much impact this legislation could be having," she said.
Ms Flannery said there was "considerable untapped potential" to disrupt and deter prolific burglars and street corner drug dealers as well.
"Money and criminals are slipping through the net and confidence in the criminal justice system is eroded whenever that happens," she said.
The report said £20,000 taken from a drug dealer - who could use it to buy a kilo of heroin - could save 220 burglaries with an average cost of £1,000 each, £100 for each initial police response and up to £10,000 in prosecution costs per burglar.
"Cash is absolutely essential to illegal drugs activity and criminals are now going to great lengths to protect it from seizure.
"For example, 'mules' are being used - placing money in condoms and swallowing them - because protecting cash has become almost as important as concealing the illegal commodity being smuggled," it said.
The report made 11 recommendations, including an amendment so that civilian police staff can apply for the forfeiture of seized cash.
Home Office minister Caroline Flint said: "The message from the report is clear - the powers in the Act are a powerful tool in the fight against crime and must not be underestimated.
The report, Payback Time, was produced her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of the Crown Prosecution Service and Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Magistrates Courts.
A Home Office spokesman said the Proceeds of Crime Act has a target of recovering £45m every year.
Of that the first £40m goes back into funding the expenditure of The Asset Recovery Agency.
The rest is split between the Recovered Assets Incentive Fund, which puts money back into fighting organised crime, and community-based projects.
In 2003/4 £54.5m was recovered - £9.5m above target.
So this year £15.5m has been allocated to the Recovered Assets Incentive Fund, and £7m has gone to community-based projects.