State and local law enforcement agencies will lose millions of dollars per year under the US Department of Justice's decision to end the practice of sharing with smaller governments the loot grabbed through federal forfeitures.
In Wisconsin, the Department of Justice will be the biggest loser -- it received $1.6 million of the total $4.6 million received by state agencies in 2014, according to a federal report.
The Milwaukee Police Department is next on the hit list. It got a total of $574,211.
But no more, at least for now. The DOJ announced last week that it is suspending the program, called the "equitable sharing" program, because of its own financial difficulties, according to the Washington Post. The program's budget took a $1.2 billion hit.
While information about what each state law enforcement buys with its "equitable share" is not available, the Milwaukee Police Department supplies its plan for the next year to the Common Council. In September, the city's federal forfeiture fund balance was $1.1 million, Police Chief Edward Flynn wrote in a letter to the council. Spending plans included:
Taser lease and expansion -- $257,000 -- Lease costs for 130 tasers and purchase of 150 additional tasers.
Replace generator at District 4 -- $120,000.
Travel/training for officers -- $110,000.
Automated Fingerprint ID System upgrade -- $16,000.
Bicycle patrol -- $15,000.
Cell phones -- $25,000 -- for use in the field.
Canine unit -- $6,000 -- funds food, medical care and boarding for three dogs. Without the dogs, the letter said, the department will be "less successful in its attempt to secure ferally seized forfeiture funds."
Administrative and miscellaneous expenses for command -- $90,000.
The federal program can be quite profitable for state and local law enforcement, as it allows them to keep up to 80% of the value of seized property; state asset seizure law allows them to keep generally just 50% to 70%. The difference, according to some, encourages law enforcement to use the federal asset forfeiture program whenever possible. There's an additional bonus -- people losing their property don't need to be convicted of any crime.
There is a bipartisan proposal in the State Legislature to tighten up state asset forfeiture law and requires law enforcement to turn over to the state school fund proceeds from the sale of all forfeited property. It would also limit law enforcement's ability to use the federal forfeiture route. The bill is opposed by the Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association and the Wisconsin Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs Association.
Gretchen Schuldt is executive director of the Wisconsin Justice Initiative.
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