Leaders of the House and Senate Judiciary committees have called on the Justice Department to end the sharing of civil seizure proceeds with local and state police, a change that would cut the flow of hundreds of million of dollars annually to departments in every state, the Washington Post reports. The lawmakers told Attorney General Eric Holder they think money from Justice's Equitable Sharing Program, the federal government's largest civil asset forfeiture initiative, may be encouraging heavy-handed tactics by local and state police agencies. Equitable Sharing allows police who seize property under federal civil law to keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds, while Justice and other participating federal agencies can keep 20 percent or more.
In 2012, seizures worth more than $1.5 billion in cash, cars and other property were processed through the program. “We are concerned that these seizures might circumvent state forfeiture law restrictions, create improper incentives on the part of state and local law enforcement, and unnecessarily burden our federal authorities,” the letter said. The letter was signed by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee; Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-WI), chairman of the House Judiciary subcommittee on crime, terrorism, homeland security and investigations; Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-MI.); and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT). Their call for change comes as Justice is conducting “an internal, top-to-bottom review of its entire asset forfeiture program,” the letter said. That review is aimed at improving civil liberties protections of Americans, while also enabling the use of civil seizures to fight crime and terror.