The U.S. Department of Justice has suspended payments from its controversial civil asset forfeiture program to local police departments, which consisted of liquidated assets of seizures from criminal investigations, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Wednesday. The move, which will cut a total of $1.2 billion in funding to police departments, came as part of the omnibus spending package Congress approved last week.
Documents obtained by the Post-Dispatch revealed the Justice Department will resume sharing those payments in the future “should the budget picture improve.”
“The department does not take this step lightly,” the documents read. “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.”
But local police departments are not taking kindly to the news of the program’s suspension, saying the loss of funds will mean fewer officers will be hired and less equipment purchased.
“I’ve never had a task force in place as a revenue generator; the criminal aspect is important,” said Sam Dotson, chief of the St. Louis Police Department. “Now we are disincentivized, but we will still go out and do our jobs. But now the federal government will keep 100 percent of the money.”
The asset forfeiture program has been heavily criticized in recent years for seizing cash and assets from people who are neither charged with nor convicted of criminal activity, and some police departments have come under fire for using the tactic to boost their funding whenever money is tight. In 2014, police civil asset forfeitures totaled $4.5 billion — more than the amount of goods stolen in the year’s burglary offenses, which amounted to $3.9 billion, according to economist Martin Armstrong.