This week the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it is suspending its asset forfeiture equitable sharing program for the foreseeable future. Citing budget complaints following passage of the federal budget last week, the DOJ wrote in a letter to State, Local and Tribal Law Enforcement Agencies, had “begun implementing cost reduction measures to absorb the combined $1.2 billion rescission.”
The second edition of Policing for Profit, which the Institute for Justice released in November 2015, documented the immense size and scope of equitable sharing, as well as the perverse profit incentive presented by civil forfeiture and the equitable sharing program. Equitable sharing allows for property seized locally to be forfeited federally. In doing so, local law enforcement agencies can receive up to 80% of forfeiture revenues. As the report demonstrated, many state and local law enforcement agencies have turned to the federal equitable sharing as their states have implement stricter laws restricting civil forfeiture.
Law enforcement agencies are not happy about the suspension of these payments. A letter signed by six law enforcement groups expressed “profound concern over the decision to suspend the equitable sharing payments.”
“Many police, sheriffs and prosecutors want to circumvent state laws because outsourcing forfeiture litigation to the federal government is lucrative” said Lee McGrath, Legislative Counsel at the Institute for Justice, “State lawmakers should enact an anti-circumvention provision that respects federalism and refocuses law enforcement’s attention on stopping crime by allowing only seizures greater than $50,000 to be forfeited under federal law.”
By suspending the equitable sharing payments law enforcement will have less profit incentive to use the program. However, the program is still enacted in law, and many states still have civil forfeiture programs that have a profit incentive. Many reforms are still necessary to put a stop to policing for profit, but for now the Department of Justice is moving in the right direction.