DOJ's Equitable Sharing Program Takes $1.2 Billion Hit, Much To Dismay Of Asset Forfeiture-Abusing Law Enforcement Agencies
from the cash-cow-temporarily-penned dept
Good news (of sorts) on the asset forfeiture front: the same budget bill that delivered us into the hands of CISA also helped “rob” the nation’s highwaymen of $1.2 billion in equitable sharing funds.
Budget cuts can be glorious things: the Department of Justice announces this week that, thanks to cuts in its budget of an initial $746 million in November’s Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, followed up by a wondrous addition $458 million rescission in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016 that became law last week, it is temporarily halting its so-called “equitable sharing” program.
The DOJ’s statement notes it will definitely try to keep the equitable sharing program up and running, but doesn’t see how that’s going to be possible in the immediate future.
By deferring equitable sharing payments now, we preserve our ability to resume equitable sharing payments at a later date should the budget picture improve….We explored every conceivable option that would have enabled us to preserve some form of meaningful equitable sharing while continuing to operate the Program and meet our other fiscal obligations. Unfortunately, the combined effect of the two reductions totaling $1.2 billion made that impossible.
This means state and local law enforcement agencies can still use the federal program to dodge local restrictions on asset forfeiture, but they’ll just have to accept the fact that payouts will be delayed for an indefinite period of time.
Equitable sharing is the preferred loophole for agencies who reside in states with restrictive laws or are currently being subjected to forfeiture reform efforts. They’re not taking the news well. The National Sheriff’s Association (the other NSA) was one of the first to bitch about the budget cut.
The National Sheriffs’ Association is shocked and disappointed by the Department of Justice’s decision to suspend the equitable sharing of Asset Forfeiture Program funds to state, local, and tribal law enforcement. This is yet another blow to those who work every day to prevent terrorism and crime in our communities.
By rescinding nearly $1.2 billion from the Program, Congress and the Administration have openly chosen to focus on the financial bottom line over protecting communities. They should be ashamed because this decision will have severe and direct consequences for our communities.
First off, lol “terrorism.”
If there’s anything asset forfeiture has done little to impact, it’s terrorism. Most law enforcement agencies talk a good terrorism game, but use funding, tech and secondhand military gear to target ordinary crooks — the sort of criminals they’ve always been able to pursue without armored vehicles, cell tower spoofers and hundreds of thousands of dollars in forfeiture funds.
Secondly, the last thing I’d want to criticize Congress and the Administration for is “focusing on the bottom line.” That’s what budgets are for and that’s what legislators should be doing. Of course, the budgeting process in our country has become a tragicomic farce, as can easily be seen by the passage of the horrible Cybersecurity Act (the rebranded CISA) under the pretense of sussing out the nation’s future spending. This criticism can basically be rephrased as “Screw the taxpayers. We want ours.”
The NSA also points out that it’s become highly reliant on a single “income stream.”
The Congress and the Administration have once again failed to understand the repercussions of their actions. In this case, joint task forces across the country will do without the critical manpower support of state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies because many, if not most, sheriffs will be unable to sustain the anti-terror and criminal prevention tempo sufficient to meet the ever-increasing demands. Our federal law enforcement partners will now carry that unimaginable burden.
“Anti-terror tempo.” Hilarious.
From there, the association delivers its parade of horribles, none of which seem particularly horrible to anyone but law enforcement officials used to getting what they want, whenever they want it.
The protective capabilities of our nation are being downgraded at every level in never ending attacks on law enforcement. From this rescission to the early release of thousands of federal inmates to the restrictions on surplus military equipment available to state and local law enforcement, the safety and security of our communities is being put at risk.
Let’s see: the “bad” things stem from overcriminalization, militarization of law enforcement agencies and the widespread dissemination of police accountability tools (mainly, cell phones with built-in cameras). And now, the ability to route around local laws to grab a greater share of assets seized without corresponding convictions has been temporarily curtailed.
Let’s hope these federal agencies will hold up under the “unimaginable burden” of shaking down recreational marijuana users for any cash they might be carrying, busting people for thinking about robbing imaginary stash houses containing imaginary drugs, and whiling away the hours at the FBI’s Build-A-Terrorist Workshop.
For the immediate future, law enforcement agencies will have to play by local rules. Fortunately for them, most states still run highly-questionable forfeiture programs, so the temporary loss of federal-level sharing should have minimal impact.