Cronkite Header

Cronkite News has moved to a new home at Use this site to search archives from 2011 to May 2015. You can search the new site for current stories.

How the federal Equitable Sharing Program works

Email this story
Print this story

The federal Equitable Sharing Program’s foundation is civil asset forfeiture, a process through which law enforcement can seize property without having to bring the owners to trial.

In order to get money from this program, state and local law enforcement agencies must involve federal agencies in the investigations in which they seize property.

In the past, this included investigations that a federal agency participated in from the beginning and those that a federal agency “adopted” after the property was seized. However, Attorney General Eric Holder announced major changes to the law in January, including reining in the practice of federal adoptions, making it more difficult for local agencies to participate in the program.

Once the money is seized, it is processed by the Department of Justice or the Department of the Treasury and passed back to the local and state agencies based on their level of involvement.

The federal guidelines state that forfeiture dollars must only be used for law enforcement purposes. They generally cannot pay the salaries of the officers making the seizures.

Sources: Department of Justice’s Equitable Sharing guidelines and Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement of changes to the program