Texas makes $425 million as federal government announces ban on police confiscating property
The U.S. government has announced a ban on the seizing of assets by local and state police through the use of federal law.
Attorney General Eric Holder issued the order, saying “with this new policy, effective immediately, the Justice Department is taking an important step to prohibit federal agency adoptions of state and local seizures, except for public safety reasons.”
A tool created in the 1980s for use in the War on Drugs, asset forfeiture allows police to seize and keep all property of a person who has been charged with a crime. Typically this includes cars, homes, cash, and other high value property.
As part of a program, the federal agencies were receiving 20 percent of all assets seized under federal law.
Since 2008, thousands of local and state police agencies have made more than 55,000 seizures of cash and property worth $3 billion under a civil asset forfeiture program at the Justice Department called Equitable Sharing.
Departments will still be able to confiscate illegal firearms, ammunition, explosives, and property associated with child pornography.
Police will still be able to continue with seizing assets using state law, however the key difference between using federal laws versus state laws is how much, if any, money is received by the department for the seizures.
While federal law permits departments to keep 80 percent of the proceeds, many states put the money into the state’s general fund when assets are seized using state law.
Holder’s decision follows a Washington Post investigation published in September which found that police have made cash seizures worth almost $2.5 billion from motorists and others without search warrants or indictments since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Washington Post reports,
The Post found that local and state police routinely pulled over drivers for minor traffic infractions, pressed them to agree to warrantless searches and seized large amounts of cash without evidence of wrongdoing. The law allows such seizures and forces the owners to prove their property was legally acquired in order to get it back.
Police spent the seizure proceeds with little oversight, in some cases buying luxury cars, high-powered weapons and military-grade gear such as armored cars, according to an analysis of Justice Department data obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests.
Holder’s action comes as members of both parties in Congress are working together to craft legislation to overhaul civil asset forfeiture. Last Friday, Sens. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), along with Reps. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) and John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), signed a letter calling on Holder to end Equitable Sharing.
Since 2001, about 7,600 of the nation’s 18,000 police departments and task forces have participated in Equitable Sharing.
Between 2001 and 2007, Texas law enforcement received more than $225 million in civil forfeiture proceeds under state law and $200 million in equitable sharing with the federal government from 2000 to 2008.