Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Friday barred local and state police from using federal law to seize cash, cars and other property without warrants or criminal charges.
The decision follows a Washington Post investigation published in September that found that police have made cash seizures worth almost $2.5 billion from motorists and others without search warrants or indictments since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The Post found that local and state police routinely pulled over drivers for minor traffic infractions, pressed them to agree to warrantless searches and seized large amounts of cash without evidence of wrongdoing. The law allows such seizures and forces the owners to prove their property was legally acquired in order to get it back.
Police spent the seizure proceeds with little oversight, in some cases buying luxury cars, high-powered weapons and military-grade gear such as armored cars, according to an analysis of Justice Department data obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests.
The policy will touch police and local budgets in every state. For hundreds of police departments and sheriff's offices, the seizure proceeds accounted for 20 percent or more of their annual budgets in recent years, according to a Post analysis.
The action comes at a time when police are already angry about remarks that Holder and President Obama made after the police killings of unarmed black men in Ferguson, Mo., and New York City. Some have accused them of being "anti-cop."
"It seems like a continual barrage against police," said John W. Thompson, interim executive director of the National Sheriffs' Association. "I'm not saying there's no wrongdoing, but there is wrongdoing in everything."