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Federal Equitable Sharing v. State Reforms

On September 23, 2011, in federal, states, by John Payne

Over at Oregon Catalyst, Eric Shierman describes how the use of federal equitable sharing undermines attempts by states, such as Oregon and California, to protect their citizens’ property from law enforcement. (Also, the mere fact that property must be protected from law enforcement speaks volumes):

As Oregonians, we should be concerned less with what is happening in states without CAF restrictions, than with states that restrict it more than we do.  Oregon law cannot restrain federal law enforcement, which has expanded its CAF policies, providing another tool by which local law enforcement gets hooked on federal money. Under a program called “equitable sharing” local law enforcement jurisdictions that cooperate with the feds get to keep 80% of the money from federal cases, even in cases were state law would not allow the seizure.

The 80% payout has proven to be a bargain, making this a bonanza for all involved. State, county, and municipal police get to bypass their state’s law, and the Department of Justice pockets a 20% commission for merely processing the cases.

Payments under the equitable sharing program have increased 75% over the past decade for understandable reasons. Last year US attorneys pursued 11,000 non-criminal asset seizure cases resulting in the confiscation of $ 1.6 billion that got deposited into the US Treasury. How many law enforcement jobs do you think that stimulus saved or created?

What ought to give Oregonians pause is the frequency with which these cases have been exploding recently in California which restricts CAF far more than we do. The Department of Justice’s equitable sharing program has allowed California’s local law enforcement agencies to ignore California state law. In a time of budgetary constraints, it will not take long for this innovation to get emulated in our state.

Shierman is more correct than he probably knows. According to research performed by Charles Kucher, which Americans for Forfeiture Reform will release in the near future, shows that the more state law protects citizens from unjust forfeitures, the more police and prosecutors will rely on federal forfeiture laws. This undermines state sovereignty by preventing to set their own forfeiture laws in any meaningful sense, and it allows for a tremendous amount of abuse, as federal law offers relatively little protection to property owners. Equitable sharing may contribute more to the injustices caused by forfeiture than any other factor because it makes reforms at the local and state level largely toothless. For forfeiture reformers, equitable sharing is public enemy number one.

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2 Responses to “Federal Equitable Sharing v. State Reforms”

  1. [...] 3.) Carylon and Clark indicate that taxpayers would somehow be deprived if police were to lack the power to self-appropriate through asset forfeiture. It’s a frequent refrain. It’s also false. Police appropriations properly rest with local elected representatives. Generally taxpayers and their representatives are neither given the power to appropriate those resources elsewhere nor are they under any duty to provide the funds for what police do with asset forfeiture proceeds. Moreover, it is wholly inappropriate for police to determine whether and to the extent that they are “deprived of resources essential to fighting crime.”  A community’s power to control police appropriations is essential. It is the community’s power to compel the policing that the community wants. The degree that the community is not in charge of its police budget is the degree to which it lacks control over its police. It’s not mere coincidence that police militarization happened along with  these Achaean gifts of coercive federal law enforcement grants, police power to self-appropriate, and federal equitable sharing dollars. [...]

  2. [...] 3.) Carylon and Clark indicate that taxpayers would somehow be deprived if police were to lack the power to self-appropriate through asset forfeiture. It’s a frequent refrain. It’s also false. Police appropriations properly rest with local elected representatives. Generally taxpayers and their representatives are neither given the power to appropriate those resources elsewhere nor are they under any duty to provide the funds for what police would do with asset forfeiture proceeds. Moreover, it is wholly inappropriate for police to determine whether and to the extent that they are “deprived of resources essential to fighting crime.”  A community’s power to control police appropriations is essential. It is the community’s power to compel the policing that the community wants. The degree that the community is not in charge of its police budget is the degree to which it lacks control over its police. It’s not mere coincidence that police militarization happened along with  these Achaean gifts of coercive federal law enforcement grants, police power to self-appropriate, and federal equitable sharing dollars. [...]

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