State and local law enforcement can also take advantage of a controversial federal forfeiture program called equitable sharing, which enables them to circumvent their own states’ laws, which are often less lucrative, and forfeit under federal law instead—getting up to 80 percent of the proceeds back. Policing for Profit finds that DOJ equitable sharing payments to state and local law enforcement nationwide more than tripled between 2000 and 2013, jumping from $198 million to $643 million.
This year, former attorney general Eric Holder announced some new restrictions on the equitable-sharing program, but as I wrote here in January, those restrictions will affect only a very small percentage of overall forfeitures.
Defenders of these policies often claim that they’re necessary to prevent “ill-gotten gains” from big-time drug dealers and other criminals. But IJ was able to obtain figures on the amount of money or value of assets forfeited per suspect from 10 different states. The median amount ranged from $451 in Minnesota to $2,048 in Utah. These aren’t kingpins. In fact, even the upper end of that range is far below what it would cost an innocent owner to hire an attorney to win back what was taken.
IJ also gave each state an updated grade based on its forfeiture policies and practices. Here’s a map of those grades: