A recent story on NPR’s “All Things Considered” segment spotlighted the increasingly unpopular practice of civil forfeiture. Specifically, it addressed a new bill in Congress designed to curb forfeiture abuse (called the DUE PROCESS Act) and gave an overview of previous attempts at reforming the practice that did not go far enough.
IJ Attorney Robert Everett Johnson, who recently testified before the House Ways & Means Subcommittee on the need to reform forfeiture laws, was also quoted in the piece. Johnson said that he and others who have worked to stop civil forfeiture were initially pleased with the Obama administration’s efforts at reforming it last year. It soon became clear, however, that the new rules were so full of loopholes that very little actually changed. He told NPR:
“The federal government is still accepting property for forfeiture that is seized by state and local police on the side of the highway with no federal agent in sight or in some cases probably no federal agent within a hundred miles.”
NPR reporter Martin Kaste explained how local law enforcement can profit by passing seized assets along to the federal government.
“When local cops turn assets over to the feds, the feds usually give 80 percent of it back to the local police department. It’s a kind of finder’s fee, which critics believe motivates a lot of these local seizures to begin with.
There are no good statistics yet on whether the Obama administration’s reforms have changed that dynamic.”
This technique, called “equitable sharing,” was scrutinized in IJ’s 2015 report, “Policing for Profit.” The federal equitable sharing program was briefly suspended earlier this year, but has since resumed.