The Tennessee Department of Safety wrongly paid for food totaling over $110K with funds collected through civil asset forfeiture, the Inspector General reported last Thursday.

Passed in 1984, the Comprehensive Crime Control Act established the Department of Justice’s Asset Forfeiture Program (AFP) which allows law enforcement to seize assets from individuals suspected with involvement in illegal activity, even if there are no formal charges.

Under the AFP, the Equitable Sharing Program was established allowing state and local law enforcement agencies involved in federal crime crackdown efforts to claim a portion of any seized money and property. This allows local police forces to ignore state property protections in favor of lower federal standards

While civil asset forfeiture comes under greater scrutiny in recent years, there are some limits set on the scope in which seized funds can be spent on, barring agencies from purchasing bayonets, grenade launchers, food, and other extravagant expenses.

Between 2014 and 2016 Tennessee’s Department of Safety spent $112,614 of seized cash on catering, banquet tickets, and retail food purchases, a clear violation of the limits established by the Department of Justice.

When the Inspector General presented this finding to the department its Controller said “that he did not know these expenditures were unallowable”.

Beyond that, the agency further neglected to adhere to DOJ rules, failing to file receipts of requested funds, and even filed their FY 2014 report 19 days late.

It’s clear that DOJ efforts to reign in and prevent abuse of the Equitable Sharing Program have failed, and the problem lies in the fundamental flaws surrounding the Asset Forfeiture Program as a whole where due process and presumption of innocence are blatantly ignored in favor of big-government draconian policies.

These developments are just another example of countless abuses resulting from the program. The men and women of law enforcement are entrusted with enforcing the rule of law, yet civil asset forfeiture undermines their ability to do so by taking advantage of the communities they are sworn to protect. In an age of great divisiveness, the last thing our police need is greater scrutiny and condemnation due this government program that only furthers the polarization and makes their jobs harder.

This leaves it upon state legislatures and the federal government to end civil asset forfeiture as a practice so that innocent Americans should no longer have to fear that their property will be taken away without due process.

The full report can be found here: Audit of the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security Equitable Sharing Program Activities Nashville, Tennessee