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In what is easily the most surprisingly move (for me) in the last six years, Eric Holder announced that the Department of Justice was restricting the use of asset forfeiture by local police departments. Under the “equitable sharing” provisions of federal asset forfeiture, federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies shared in the “profits” of assets seized. (Over $3 billion in the last five years, often up to a fifth their annual budgets…)

This does not end asset forfeiture under state laws, nor does it end federal theft of citizens’ property regardless of having committed a crime, but it does lower the profit incentive of departments to abuse the law, as has been increasingly the case. Any reduction in state-sponsored theft is a blow for freedom.

In this case, I suspect the reason for this move is to allow the feds to keep any assets seized in federal-driven operations, but it will still create disincentives in the state and local police to fleece the populations.

In a related note, President Obama has been looking to curtail the 1033 program of the National Defense authorization Act, which allows the military to dump their surplus on police agencies throughout the nation. Allegedly, only a small amount of this materiel is “military grade”, but anyone looking into their local departments might notice the presence of MRAPs, armored personnel carriers, M16s and M4 rendered semi-automatic, concussion grenades, and night vision goggles in police inventory. While you can always argue a good “security” reason for these transfers, the fact is when you give someone a toy, they want to use it. Couple that with police departments filled with young men and women fresh from war zones, or trained to see themselves in a dangerous “war” against drugs, terrorism, or crime in general (and who view “old school” policing as passé), and you have a recipe for unrestrained police violence.

Both of these moves, as well as the New York Police “slowdown” of enforcing petty laws, suggest that the national outcry over police militarization, hostile policing, and profiteering have finally managed to catch the attention of policymakers. Despite the over-racializing of the Ferguson riots, they did highlight the reflexive use by police departments of military gear and strongarm tactics in crowd control (much as the Bundy Ranch raid did a year ago.)

Again, regardless of the why they did it, moves by the administration are heartening to those of us who would like to go about our business without being hassled by the authorities, whether due to race or municipal profiteering.

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