December 22, 2015

Feds Stiff State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies on Shared Asset Forfeitures

asset-forfeiture

Short version: The U.S. Department of Justice just had their budget slashed and to make up for it they are stealing the money that their state and local law enforcement partners helped them steal from American citizens

According to a memo distributed to state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies across the United States yesterday afternoon, the U.S. Department of Justice has suspended, for an unspecified length of time, equitable sharing payments to “lower” law enforcement agencies who participate in a federal program known as Equitable Sharing. Under this program local, state and tribal law enforcement agencies are able to bring their local cases to their federal “partners”, where they can take advantage of civil asset forfeiture laws and procedures that are often easier, and more profitable, than going through a state forfeiture proceeding. This heavily criticized program has, in many cases, been little more than a tool used by state and local law enforcement agencies to monetize the war on drugs.

In the memo, signed by the chief of the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section M. Kendall Day, the DOJ is facing a permanent reduction in funding of nearly $1.2 billion dollars over the next two years. Because of this shortfall, payments to state, local and tribal partners from the Equitable Sharing fund will cease immediately and indefinitely. Day gives law enforcement agencies a sliver of hope, however, by suggesting agencies might want to send even MORE business their way in an effort to pad the coffers even more.

By deferring equitable sharing payments now, we preserve our ability to resume equitable sharing payments at a later date should the budget picture improve. In other words, if additional receipts in cases without identifiable victims are deposited later in FY 2016, there is a possibility that the Department can resume its sharing on some or all of the deferred payments if there are sufficient funds in the budget.

What do the police think?

If you are thinking the police aren’t going to be very happy about this announcement then you are correct. The truth is that there are many local law enforcement agencies in this country that go far beyond simply padding their budget with seizure funds, which is what they are supposed to be doing, and actually count on these funds to make up a significant portion of their budget. This statement/press release/crymeariver was quickly delivered by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Late yesterday afternoon, the IACP participated in a conference call with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). During that call DOJ announced that, effective immediately, all new equitable sharing payments to state and local law enforcement agencies through the federal asset forfeiture program will cease for the foreseeable future. This decision was a result of the passage of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016 (H.R. 2029), which was signed into law on December 18, 2015. The Consolidated Appropriations Act made major rescissions from the federal asset forfeiture fund to pay for other programs.

We want to make clear that neither the IACP, nor any of our law enforcement partners, were consulted regarding this announcement. The position of the IACP is this decision is detrimental to state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve.

We will work with DOJ, the administration, and the U.S. Congress to do what we can to address this situation.

Care to comment?