Wednesday, January 21, 2015

U.S. government limits asset forfeiture - a little

Why Eric Holder's civil forfeiture reforms can't keep police from taking your stuff - Vox - German Lopez:

Januray 20, 2015 - "On Friday, the federal government announced a substantial change to a program that allows police to keep cash, cars and property without charging anyone with a crime. Initial reports were enthusiastic and exaggerated the scope of the change, suggesting Attorney General Eric Holder was preventing local and state cops from seizing property entirely. Now, activists are pushing back.

"What the Department of Justice actually announced on Friday was a set of new restrictions on the federal Equitable Sharing Program, which transfers proceeds from seized property to the local and state police departments who made the seizure. The change may affect less than 15 percent of the revenue local and state police departments get from the federal program. While that could have a major impact on some of the worst abuses by police, it falls far short of ending the program altogether — and many of the exploits it enables....

"The federal Equitable Sharing Program, expanded through the war on drugs in the 1980s, allows local and state police departments to seize private property allegedly used for criminal purposes, even without evidence of a crime, and share the proceeds with federal agencies.... Critics of civil asset forfeitures say the federal program creates a profit incentive for police, since the seizures can be used by cops to fund their own departments. A previous Washington Post investigation found police routinely seized property without any evidence of wrongdoing. And police used the proceeds to buy things many critics view as excessive, the Post found — from armored cars and military weapons to $600 coffeemakers and party clowns....

"Holder's order only curtails 'adoptions' that are requested through the federal program by a local or state police department working on its own. It still allows local and state police to seize and keep assets when working with federal authorities on an investigation.... The exemption for joint investigations with the feds could leave more than 80 percent of the money captured by local and state police through the federal program untouched."

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