Justice Department Creates Watchdog for Asset Forfeiture Program

October 18, 2017

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is setting up a unit in the Justice Department to oversee a policy he reinstated to help state and local police take cash and property from people suspected of a crime, even if they have not been charged.

Sessions came under fire from Democratic and Republican lawmakers when he announced the policy in July because of concerns about abuse in earlier incarnations of the asset forfeiture program. In a memo Tuesday, Sessions directed Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein to hire a director to review all aspects of the department’s policy and take action if problems arise.

“The asset forfeiture program has proven to be extremely valuable to law enforcement in our country, but it has received certain criticisms,” Sessions wrote in his memo.

Sessions this summer reversed an action by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to stop the program. Two years ago, Holder barred state and local police from using federal law to seize cash and other property without criminal charges or warrants.

Since 2008, thousands of police agencies across the country made more than 55,000 seizures of cash and property worth $3 billion under the program, which allowed local and state police to make seizures and then share the proceeds with federal agencies.

The Sessions policy reauthorizes what is called federal “adoption” of assets that state and local police seize — when the alleged conduct that led to the seizures appears to violate federal law.

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