Eric Holder Cuts Off Program That Helped Spur Police Asset Seizure 'Shopping Sprees'

from the good-move dept

Well, here’s a bit of a surprise. For years we’ve been highlighting the ridiculousness of police asset seizure and asset forfeiture laws (and, actually, were working on another post on some new such laws that we may now need to revisit…). These laws have basically become a legalized way for local police to steal cars and money without ever charging anyone with a crime. And then… they get to keep the money and sell off the cars. Some have even admitted the process is basically the police going “shopping” for stuff they want. They can seize anything, claiming that it was used in a crime, even if no one is ever charged with a crime. Effectively, they’re “charging the thing” which is why you get crazy case names like the (actual case): United States v. Article Consisting of 50,000 Cardboard Boxes More or Less, Each Containing One Pair of Clacker Balls.

However, on Friday, somewhat unexpectedly, outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder announced that he was massively limiting a federal program that helped make these seizures so valuable to police:

?With this new policy, effective immediately, the Justice Department is taking an important step to prohibit federal agency adoptions of state and local seizures, except for public safety reasons,? Holder said in a statement.

Holder?s decision allows some 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.

While police can continue to make seizures under their own state laws, the federal program was easy to use and required most of the proceeds from the seizures to go to local and state police departments. Many states require seized proceeds to go into the general fund.

There’s still more to be done to fix bad asset seizure and forfeiture laws, but this is a really big step forward.

Of course, just watch as police departments start to protest that they can no longer go “shopping” for “toys” that they can steal:

The policy will touch policing and local budgets in every state. Since 2001, about 7,600 of the nation?s 18,000 police departments and task forces have participated in Equitable Sharing. For hundreds of police departments and sheriff?s offices the seizure proceeds accounted for 20 percent or more of their annual budgets in recent years.

Either way, kudos to Holder for making this move.

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Comments on “Eric Holder Cuts Off Program That Helped Spur Police Asset Seizure 'Shopping Sprees'”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Maybe we should limit everyone to one term so they’ll just get in there and get something done and get out.

Logic really… on the off-chance you actually get a politician (or political appointee – same difference) who wants to do something useful, anything really useful is also desperately unpopular because fixing things requires some pain. This leads to not having a job any more – hence only doing things on the way out.

Basically… Winston Churchill was right.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Incentives

Depending on their budget allocations, a 20% cut to the police forces might not only not reduce the budget by 20%, but may leave the police forces of a given department genuinely understaffed.

You have to go about these things in an intelligent manner. For example, I’m willing to bet that ending online “sting” programs, and routine SWAT team deployments, will result in some impressive budget savings for relatively minimal pay cuts and personnel reductions.

Anonymous Coward says:

…massively limiting a federal program that helped make these seizures so valuable to police

The thing that was important about Federal assistance in this program was it was a way to hide from accountability in city budgeting as to where the money came from. Instead of having to claim they got the money through selling one (description of item) they could say that participation in the federal confiscation program resulted in $X for the year. The feds took a percentage and sent the rest back, in essence doing money laundering to hide the source.

Talking of forfeiture in confiscations this article states:

The problem I have with this is the financial pressure on Narcotic Task Force officers to justify their salaries through the confiscation of drug-related cash and assets. This pressure has led to abuses such as officers lying, planting evidence, unjustified civil asset forfeiture and even the death of innocent citizens.

When cities start using confiscation income as part of the city budget years in advance, it is no longer about illegal goods but rather about a lottery of what citizen gets what stolen for the year to pay for the budget. It has become another abuse that the citizens of this nation are fed up with in police and government powers as it is a license to steal.

Gwiz (profile) says:

I agree that that this is a big step forward, if nothing else than for increasing public awareness of this massive problem.

While I don’t necessarily disagree with Holder’s exceptions concerning illegal firearms, ammunition, explosives and property associated with child pornography, I do find it interesting that extra forfeiture/seizure laws aren’t really necessary for those items, because in most in instances, it’s illegal to possess those items anyways.

Anonymous Coward says:

Of course, just watch as police departments start to protest that they can no longer go “shopping” for “toys” that they can steal

Actually, it says they can still swipe things “associated with child pornography”. Expect police departments to suddenly start catching a whole lot of “suspected child pornographers” who just happened to have shiny cars and/or piles of loose cash.

Anonymous Coward says:

put away the champagne (for now)

In reality, the US DOJ’s new policy changes very little, because it only effects federal law. FBI and DEA busts will obviously no longer share their booty with local authorities as in the past. But state and local police can still confiscate people’s assets under each state’s own civil asset forfeiture laws … which could very well be expanded to make up for the shortfall.

Avatar says:

Re: put away the champagne (for now)

But it is a positive step, because this program was often used to circumvent local limitations on police departments self-funding via seizure. If your state had a law that said “all the money from seizures goes to the state, no extra money for the PD”, and you had a case that had anything to do with drugs, you whistled up the FBI, they ran the seizure as a federal issue, and then dropped a big chunk of the money back with the PD. That kind of end-run is no longer possible (at least, so long as the AG doesn’t change his mind…)

Anonymous Coward says:

Thank god this is anonymous. I know a person that is a part of the IT for a local police department. He was quite excited about a kindle fire that was hacked to run plain android that he was dying to show me. Now given, I understand a bit about police seizures and all that. But what the F’ is a glorified tablet going to prove about any crimes that warrents seizure from the victim going to help anything. IE. This was basically just legal stealing, but it’s sadly common place in US legal system. Since it wasn’t used as forensic evidence of any crime, they knew it was just going to sit in holding forever. Now in his credit, he was more amazed by running android on a Kindle fire when they first came out, but it’s still just stuck in my crawl that this was a legal officer and honestly a good friend telling me this…

Anonymous Coward says:


I am actually not sure how to feel about this. Not in the way that this isn’t the right thing to do, it most certainly is.
What I am in doubt about is if I should be deeply respecting Holder for making this excellent law, or if I should be disgusted that it took so long to make such an obvious decision.
Shouldn’t we expect our politicians to prevent such obvious “legal” robberies? It says much about our current state of affairs that this seems like such a huge thing… it should be an obvious thing to do, and should have been done the second there was event a hint of a whisper of this behavior.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Respect?

Shouldn’t we expect our politicians to…

There’s your problem right there.

Should our representatives do something about it? Of course.

Will they? Not very likely.

Should we expect them to in our current established system? No.

Should we endeavor to change the system so that we could realistically expect representatives of the people to act quickly and decisively when such events come to light? Absolutely.

yankinwaoz (profile) says:

Are you sure?

I don’t think that he is requiring a conviction. I think now all the police have to do is claim there was a crime (that is file charges). I suspect that nothing will change. Instead they will just start filing the paperwork with the DA now. The DA will of course dismiss the charges, and the police get to keep the money/car/whatever.

I wish Holder had simply said that a conviction was required.

I also wish he had said that people don’t have to sue to get their property back. Nor do people have to settle for less than 100%. If they fail to prove a crime, then they have to return ALL the property immediately. Right now they make you sue them and fight it for years.

user says:

Re: Are you sure?

What this does is force the police departments to use local and state law to perform the seizure rather than involving the federal government. As someone else mentioned this program enabled money laundering essentially because the arrest and seizure would take place at the local level under local laws (city, county state). But the seized items were handed over to the federal government to be processed for forfeiture under federal law. Why the switcharoo? Most states require a conviction for forfeiture.

The local cops are allowed to seize stuff quite easily. But in order for them to keep it, forfeiture, you usually have to be convicted of the crime the seizure was associated with. The federal forfeiture law has no requirement for a conviction at all.

David says:

Almost, but not quite

Holder’s decision allows some limited exceptions, including illegal firearms, ammunition, explosives and property associated with child pornography,

Sigh. Since “drug-related” seizures could just base their claims on the officer smelling something funny or being able to hold a dog leash, I’ll expect to see a whole lot of child pornography charges for officers pouncing on an adult in the process of changing a diaper before it is justifiably soiled. Or seizing the assets of people who bought baby powder without plausible explanation.

Or collect dolls as an adult (remember that collections of Japanese manga comics involving sex acts where an assignment of age to the rather unrealistic body shapes is rather tricky might get you charged with child pornography) that are naked beneath their clothes.

Of course, child “protection” services will be like a hawk after any such seizure pretense in order to make sure that the victims do not just lose their money but also their children and normal life.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: This has been going on for a while.

And yeah, police engaging in Mob-style racketeering has been extremely evident.

Then again, most (if not all) major criminal organizations emerge as a result of either abuse or negligence of law-enforcement bodies. The Mafia itself was shielding people from the holy inquisition when it got started.

nancy from Fl. (profile) says:


These 2 are a joke and shame to the United States. They can not attend any of the government statements made in Paris last week against the terrorist murders in Paris. That just showed the entire world how ignorant the president and his so called 2nd hand man really are. What a statement they made for the once most powerful country in the world. How low and stupid this country has gone by electing this idiot to be president. But he appointment a federal investigation for a lawless lowlife that strong armed robbed a business owner and then tried to shoot and kill a police officer with his own gun. The town businesses were destroyed, burned & robbed but our president did not have the class to attend any of the services with all the other world leaders that stood together against the terrorist that murdered 12. What does this say about our president and his losers

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It’s not really a matter of the police forces ignoring it. This is the justice department changing one of it’s programs so that it’ll no longer accept “seized” assets outside of some fairly narrow constraints. Assuming lower level employees don’t wholesale violate department policy, and assuming Holder’s replacement doesn’t change things back immediately, police forces will be stuck. They can still seize stuff, but they’ll be forced to obey state and local laws, instead of using federal law to get around local attempts to mitigate blatant abuse.

GEMont (profile) says:

Its PR time!

“Holder’s decision allows some limited exceptions, including illegal firearms, ammunition, explosives and property associated with child pornography, a small fraction of the total.”

Hmmm…. could Florida’s “Every Horny Male Is A Child Molester” property confiscation program be going nation-wide??

Are we soon to be witness to 500,000+ un-convicted, but publicly shamed and property bereft horny single males being “pulled in” for NOT molesting the imaginary children offered up for clandestine sex, by the social media entrapment police forces??

Looks like its a really good time to forgo the social media coupling route and go back to simple one hand clapping masturbation sessions boys, if you happen to own a car or a house you’d like to keep.

If there is one thing that never changes, it is that once a crook gets used to a certain “method” of “easy cash”, they will do everything in their power to insure that nothing comes between them and that method, including murder, extortion and manufacturing false documentation.

Today’s Cowboy Cops are NOT going to take kindly to the idea that they can no longer steal millions of dollars a year from the general public, at will, legally. If they don’t put up a huge fight against this legislation, then that just means they have already figured out a way to circumvent it and keep on stealing legally.

Ways like using the child molestation loophole and taking the Florida entrapment process nation-wide.

Anonymous Coward says:

“kudos to Holder for making this move.”

No. Holder is attempting to make Loretta Lynch’s past reliance upon the program less of a sticking point during her upcoming confirmation hearing by eliminating the possibility of any future usage. Of course, this doesn’t change the fact that the current piece of shit nominee stole heavily from American citizens in her past.

GEMont (profile) says:

Re: Should be fun

Or the Cowboy Cops will petition the crooks in office locally to establish new laws for state and local police to carry on in exactly the same manner as before but without the cream going to the feds.

Considering that this would make the process even more lucrative for the city cops, I see it as the obvious solution to the financial problems the police will soon be facing without the old “you keep what you steal” laws.

After all, as you said, they will be facing budget shortfalls without the Reverse Robin-Hood revenue, so it will behoove their local politicians to write new legislation to insure the Cops get to keep the cash, houses, computers, boats, jewelry, clothing and cars they steal from the public, just like the old days and that the budget needs are fulfilled.

Sandra says:

I think that the budget should not be dependent on seizures made during the police work. This is an abnormal point of view. The federal level can of course take it under its’ jurisdiction, but this will have no impact on local budgets. I think this money will be just lost in its’ way. That is why people should not rely on it too much, it is much better to use New Brunswick payday loans that will obviously help in any difficult situation.

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