A controversial federal program that has allowed local police to collect millions of dollars in seized assets has been suspended by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
The Justice Department’s “equitable-sharing” program has allowed police to prosecute asset forfeiture cases under federal instead of state law, which often is more restrictive and less profitable for law enforcement. The federal program has permitted police to keep up to 80% of assets they seize, even when those they are taken from are never charged with a crime, according to The Washington Post. Police departments seize televisions, cars, cash and even houses under this program.
“Asset forfeiture has become an increasingly contentious practice in recent years. It lets police seize and keep cash and property from people who are never convicted — and in many cases, never charged — with wrongdoing,” the Post’s Christopher Ingraham wrote. “Recent reports have found that the use of the practice has exploded in recent years, prompting concern that, in some cases, police are motivated more by profits and less by justice.”
Justice officials said they were not canceling the program, but according to a letter (pdf) only suspending it for budget reasons, so it could be reinstituted. It reportedly has lost $1.2 billion because of budget cuts and other reasons.
The Institute for Justice, a libertarian law firm that has investigated the assets forfeiture practice, hailed the decision to suspend the program. “This is a significant deal,” Lee McGrath, legislative counsel at the Institute for Justice, told…