Local law enforcement weighing impact after Justice Department halts forfeiture program

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INDIANAPOLIS (Dec. 28, 2015) – Local law enforcement agencies are weighing the impact of a recent Department of Justice decision, halting a controversial program that has given billions of dollars to local police agencies.

In a letter last week, the department announced it’s stopping the equitable sharing program, which allowed local agencies to keep a majority of assets seized during arrests involving federal and local agencies.

According to an analysis by the Institute for Justice, Indiana agencies received more than $55 million as part of the program between 2000 and 2013.

The Department of Justice cited budget cuts in the new spending bill as the reason.

“It’s a big hit for law enforcement because we work hard,” Stephen Luce said, executive director of the Indiana Sheriff’s Association. “To see something like this cut drastically like it is, it’s definitely going to implement changes for those sheriffs who have deputies that are working with federal task forces.”

Critics have long-argued the incentive encourages police to unduly seize items.

Marion County Sheriff John Layton issued the following statement on Tuesday:

“This is a classic example of cutting off your nose to spite your face. It is a needless destruction of a good program, and an over-reaction to the Department of Justice’s problem. We are one city in Indianapolis and we need a united law enforcement effort, federal, state and local, to defend out citizenry. Unfortunately, these actions by the U.S Department of Justice tend to divide and separate, rather than combine, enhance and re-double our collective efforts. Therefore, I support the National Sheriffs’ Association and the Indiana Sheriffs’ Association call upon Congress to ensure that local law enforcement has more tools, not less, to protect our increasingly vulnerable citizens.”

Locally, agencies said it’s too early to tell the direct impact.

“The IMPD is aware of The Department of Justice’s changes to how seized assets will be allocated,” a spokesperson said in a statement. “We are waiting on further clarification of the changes and will make a decision then.”

Luce said he’s already heard concern from a number of sheriffs across the state.

“When you see things like this cut, you just gotta almost start over,” he said. “Because it’s really going to impact how we do things at the local level and state level.”

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