The Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General (OIG) last month released an audit of the Lansing, Michigan Police Department's use of of asset forfeiture revenues through the federal "Equitable Sharing" Program:
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Office of the Inspector General, Audit Division, has completed an audit of the use of DOJ equitable sharing receipts by the Lansing, Michigan, Police Department (Lansing PD). The audit covered the Lansing PD’s fiscal years (FY) 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012.3 During that period, the Lansing PD received DOJ equitable sharing revenues totaling $823,960 to support law enforcement operations.
In 2012, the latest year data is available, Michigan law enforcement received $17,114,435 in total through Equitable Sharing of which Lansing PD received $989,047. Incidentally, forfeitures by Michigan statute in 2012 totaled $13,777,858.
The OIG made four findings that the Lansing PD had violated federal Equitable Sharing guidelines:
We found that the Lansing PD did not fully comply with equitable sharing guidelines with respect to accounting for equitable sharing receipts and the allowable use of equitable sharing funds. Specifically, we found:
- The Lansing PD commingled DOJ equitable sharing funds with state of Michigan asset forfeiture funds.
- The Lansing PD did not maintain a DAG-71 log for reconciling equitable sharing receipts.
- The Lansing PD improperly used $3,061 in equitable sharing funds to pay for overtime of a civilian employee.
- The Lansing PD used $12,563 in equitable sharing funds for officers’ uniform allowance without having proper supporting documentation.
While these issues are serious from a "compliance" standpoint, the larger picture is more important. The increasing reliance of Lansing's Police Department on funds obtained through federal asset forfeiture is not good news for property owners, who face much greater barriers to defending their property in federal forfeiture proceedings than in Michigan courts.
Michigan legislators will be addressing proposals to increase the transparency of forfeiture revenues and to prohibit forfeiture absent a criminal conviction in 2014. Further reform proposals should include some restrictions on the ability of Michigan law enforcement to send forfeitures to federal agencies, a tactic that is increasingly being used to evade more restrictive state forfeiture statutes. And revenues from federal agencies should not go directly to local police departments; state lawmakers could restrict that practice by mandating that forfeiture revenues be sent to the general fund of the receiving agency's governing body.