Attorney General Eric Holder has restricted a controversial forfeiture program that creates an incentive for police to seize property, whether they can prove a crime or not, the Washington Post is reporting. It's called "equitable sharing," and civil liberties advocates say it has resulted in traffic stops that look more like highway robbery than public safety.
The move comes after bipartisan efforts in Congress to place limits on civil forfeiture, the practice of confiscating assets without a criminal charge. Minnesota outlawed the practice by state and local law enforcement last year, but with equitable sharing, it was still possible for Minnesota law enforcement agencies to gain the proceeds from seizures by having the federal government "adopt" the cases. Since 2001, six Minnesota law enforcement agencies earned from $342,000 to $897,000 from the program, data analyzed by the Post shows.
"The new policy means that federal agency adoption of assets seized by state or local law enforcement under state law for federal forfeiture is prohibited, except for that property that directly implicates public safety concerns, specifically firearms, ammunition, explosives, and property associated with child pornography," said Ben Petok, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Andy Luger.
The Legislature's repealing of civil forfeiture in Minnesota created a delicate task for Luger, who told me he subjects these cases to extraordinary scrutiny. "Asset forfeiture remains a critical law enforcement tool," Petok said Friday.