A federal program meant to bust big-time drug pushers by allowing cops to seize their assets without having to prove a crime was committed has become a major source of funding for local police, The Washington Post
The Equitable Sharing Program has paid for weapons, armored vehicles, and sophisticated surveillance gear. Eighty percent of asset seizures go to local law enforcement, with 20 percent turned over to the feds. The program has netted about $2 billion.
To get their property back owners need to show it is legally theirs.
Some say the program has turned into a "slush fund" for the participating 5,400 local police agencies. Cops have bought everything from helicopters and armored personnel carriers to coffee makers.
One force hired a clown for a community outreach effort, the Post reported.
Officially the program is not intended as "an alternative funding source for state and local law enforcement," said Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr. "Any funds received through the equitable sharing program are meant to enhance and supplement, not supplant or replace an agency's appropriated budget and resources," the Post said.
Encouraged by federal authorities after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, local police have reported some 62,000 cash seizures. The money may be used for disaster operations, overtime, training, construction — even refreshments for conferences. It may not be used for regular salaries, the Post reported.
The money may be spent to pay fees that cover participation in the Defense Department's surplus property program that makes it possible for municipal and state police, such as cops in Ferguson, Missouri, to buy automatic weapons, special SWAT uniforms and gear.
Spending for non-law enforcement purposes, amounting to millions of dollars, has been questioned by the Justice Department's inspector general's office. Some departments have purchased luxury automobiles, the Post reported.
Police in Braselton, Georgia, which has about 8,000 residents, have made the most use of the program per capita, covering about 20 percent of its budget from seizures. Braselton cops spent $905,000 on building improvements, $79,000 on weapons and gear, $139,000 for travel and training, $224,000 for computers, and $875,000 earmarked "other," the Post reported.
Braselton Assistant Chief Lou Solis said, "It's legit. We're not buying stuff just to buy stuff. We spend the money if we have it."
He added, "It's pretty cool. We're not only able to help us; we're able to help others," referring to the Georgia State Patrol, the Post reported.
Braselton police have now been instructed that they may not spend money to benefit other law enforcement agencies, the Post reported.
© 2021 Newsmax. All rights reserved.