The truth about federal multi-jurisdictional task forces: resources for reporters writing about Holder’s policy change

(c) 2015 Brenda Grantland – short link – http://wp.me/p5xzo0-7N

DSC00260Attorney General Eric Holder’s Policy Order limiting a tiny aspect of the asset forfeiture program — federal adoption — is a hot topic in the news lately.   There has been a lot of misinformation spread about it.

Journalists: Here are resources you should read about the Holder “federal adoption policy change” issue before you write your article about it:

1) The actual Holder policy order. It is brief and very limited and contains huge exceptions. If you read it and understand what it means you will shrug and say “no big deal” to the media reports saying this was an important first step in forfeiture reform.  The work-around is built right into the policy change.

2) My blogs analyzing the Holder policy order:

3) The DEA website page DEA Programs: State & Local Task Forces.  Be sure to click on the interactive map on that page to see what federal task forces operate within your state.

4) The Forfeiture Endangers American Rights website www.fear.org is still the best source of information on forfeiture law.  Please use the online FEAR law library to look up the applicable statutes that involve your issues.

5) In my online research I have found a number of multi-jurisdictional task force agreements. Click the link to access the agreements I have found so far on line.  As you can see the agreements vary — some involve local agencies only and some include state and federal components.  If you know of a local drug task force that is not included, please post a comment to this blog and I will try to find it and add it to the collection.

My final rant (for tonight) about multi-jurisdictional drug task forces:

The Holder policy order is partially a clever ploy to appease those clamoring for forfeiture reform – but also a Trojan horse. It is a Trojan horse because it will force state and local police agencies to form multi-jurisdictional task forces with the federal government if they want to preserve their previously abundant Equitable Sharing revenue streams.

Task forces are governed by contract between participating police agencies.  State and local police agencies are created and regulated by statutes and/or ordinances, and answer directly to the local or state government which created them, and the agency’s chain of command answers to the top official of the agency, with internal checks and balances to ensure that they enforce the law they were hired to enforce. The state or local legislature controls their purse strings and that is a big motivator to get them to obey the applicable state or local law.

The fact that the federal government could override that statutorily established chain of command, substituting federal law for the law of the state, county or city that hired them is questionable in itself.  That state and local officers’ chain of command could be supplanted by a board of directors created by private contract between law enforcement agencies is a topic of grave concern that warrants discussion.

Once agents are detailed to task forces, the chain of command is no longer the usual government hierarchy of the county sheriff’s department, city police, or state police – even though those local agencies continue to pay their salaries.

Who do the task force agents ultimately answer to?  They owe their allegiance not to the chain of command of the agencies that pay their salaries, but to a board of directors chosen by their individual participating government agencies, governed by the task force coordination agreement.

The Holder policy change will only cut off Equitable Sharing revenue to state and local police agencies that remain under the chain of command of their local agencies.

This policy change will force the local agencies to form federal task forces to preserve their revenue streams.

From what I conclude from reading the DEA’s website, forming a federal task force is an easy thing to do.  They just negotiate a contract with surrounding local law enforcement agencies to create a multi-juridictional task force and apply to have the DEA sponsor it.  The local agents get cross-deputized as federal agents (probably a brief ceremony with no entrance test or prerequisites except maybe a criminal background check).  This empowers all of them to enforce federal law while they are on the payroll of state and local law enforcement agencies.  The state and local agencies are rewarded by a kickback from the Equitable Sharing program of a percentage of the forfeiture revenue generated each time their agents on the task force help generate federal forfeiture revenue.  The Equitable Sharing program promises law enforcement agencies up to 80% of the proceeds of the forfeiture case they work on, with the profits being split up according to how much each agency contributed, with the U.S. Department of Justice being the sole arbiter on who gets what percentage of the loot, with unreviewable discretion to decide as it pleases.

Nation wide, police agencies are showing serious lacks of control already – violations of civil rights, use of excessive force, falsification of evidence and other misconduct.  Stricter oversight is needed to regain control over the forces that are supposed to be maintaining law and order.  They don’t need more autonomy.

This is why I am not celebrating the “great” news about Holder’s policy reform.

 

 

 

 

Brenda Grantland

Brenda Grantland is a private attorney in Mill Valley California, with 30 years’ experience primarily in asset forfeiture defense, as well as federal criminal appeals and victims rights and restitution. Brenda handles federal cases throughout the country, and frequently works with other attorneys or legal teams as a consultant or co-counsel.

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