Citing the federal appropriations bill that passed Congress last week, the Department of Justice suspended an asset forfeiture program providing $1.2 billion to local police departments, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. DOJ hopes to resume sharing payments “at a later date should the budget picture improve.” The money in the program typically comes from the seizure of assets including cash, cars, houses, and other items during criminal investigations in which local officers partner with federal agents. Once those assets are liquidated, the federal government shares the proceeds with police departments. The St. Louis police department uses the money to buy equipment such as vehicles, Tasers, training classes, and the move to a new police headquarters. Chief Sam Dotson, who was notified of the cuts Tuesday, believes they could hamper the department’s ability to hire more officers during the next budget cycle in the absence of federal money typically used to pay for equipment.
“This is going to have a huge impact on police departments not only in St. Louis but around the country,” Dotson said. “It is an inconsistent message from the president whose focus is on 21st Century Policing, and yet this happened without having a serious conversation about how this will impact local law enforcement.” Criminal justice reformers are cheering the change. “This is a significant deal,” Lee McGrath, legislative counsel at the Institute for Justice, told the Washington Post. “Local law enforcement responds to incentives. And it’s clear that one of the biggest incentives is the relative payout from federal versus state forfeiture. And this announcement by the DOJ changes the playing field for which law state and local [law enforcement] is going to prefer.”