Holder ends abusive asset seizure policy for local police

I will give the lame-duck attorney general, Eric Holder, credit for doing the right thing, though I wish he hadn’t waited six years to do it.  Robert O'Harrow Jr., Sari Horwitz and Steven Rich report in the Washington Post:

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Friday barred local and state police from using federal law to seize cash, cars and other property without warrants or criminal charges. (snip)

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.

The program has enabled local and state police to make seizures and then have them “adopted” by federal agencies, which share in the proceeds. It allowed police departments and drug task forces to keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds of adopted seizures, with the rest going to federal agencies.

The policy has enabled police to seize assets and keep them, forcing the accused to prove they are legitimately acquired in order to recover them.  This contradicts the “innocent until proven guilty” doctrine of our judicial system and is thus an outrage.  It also incentivizes police to seek out situations where assets can be seized, since police face little or no oversight in how the seized funds are spent, and they often become a slush fund.  As many Hollywood police dramas have noted, police often acquire fancy sports or luxury cars this way.

A Justice Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the attorney general’s motivation, said Holder “also believes that the new policy will eliminate any possibility that the adoption process might unintentionally incentivize unnecessary stops and seizures.”

There are some reasonable exceptions:

Holder’s decision allows limited exceptions, including illegal firearms, ammunition, explosives and property associated with child pornography, a small fraction of the total. This would eliminate virtually all cash and vehicle seizures made by local and state police from the program.

This move comes in the wake of a concerted campaign to demonize police, and the Department of Justice, despite Holder’s assertion of support for police, has taken a role in this campaign.  So it does raise the question of whether or not Holder is getting back at police departments.  Note also that federal law enforcement agencies can continue to use this policy to seize assets, so only local police are affected.  If Holder truly believed that the policy is morally wrong, he would seek its abolition a the federal level.

Nonetheless, whatever the motives, it is a good thing that this invitation to abuse is being done away with at the local level.

I will give the lame-duck attorney general, Eric Holder, credit for doing the right thing, though I wish he hadn’t waited six years to do it.  Robert O'Harrow Jr., Sari Horwitz and Steven Rich report in the Washington Post:

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Friday barred local and state police from using federal law to seize cash, cars and other property without warrants or criminal charges. (snip)

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.

The program has enabled local and state police to make seizures and then have them “adopted” by federal agencies, which share in the proceeds. It allowed police departments and drug task forces to keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds of adopted seizures, with the rest going to federal agencies.

The policy has enabled police to seize assets and keep them, forcing the accused to prove they are legitimately acquired in order to recover them.  This contradicts the “innocent until proven guilty” doctrine of our judicial system and is thus an outrage.  It also incentivizes police to seek out situations where assets can be seized, since police face little or no oversight in how the seized funds are spent, and they often become a slush fund.  As many Hollywood police dramas have noted, police often acquire fancy sports or luxury cars this way.

A Justice Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the attorney general’s motivation, said Holder “also believes that the new policy will eliminate any possibility that the adoption process might unintentionally incentivize unnecessary stops and seizures.”

There are some reasonable exceptions:

Holder’s decision allows limited exceptions, including illegal firearms, ammunition, explosives and property associated with child pornography, a small fraction of the total. This would eliminate virtually all cash and vehicle seizures made by local and state police from the program.

This move comes in the wake of a concerted campaign to demonize police, and the Department of Justice, despite Holder’s assertion of support for police, has taken a role in this campaign.  So it does raise the question of whether or not Holder is getting back at police departments.  Note also that federal law enforcement agencies can continue to use this policy to seize assets, so only local police are affected.  If Holder truly believed that the policy is morally wrong, he would seek its abolition a the federal level.

Nonetheless, whatever the motives, it is a good thing that this invitation to abuse is being done away with at the local level.