TIME mergers & acquisitions

Here’s Why Merger Approvals Are Getting So Slow

It's not just your imagination

As the number of mergers and acquisitions has rapidly increased in the past few years since the 2007-08 financial crisis, government watchdog agencies have been slower at approving them, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission are using more time to investigate mergers, the newspaper reported, citing data from antitrust lawyer Paul Denis of Dechert LLP. Denis’ data show recent merger reviews are taking 10 months on average versus seven months in previous years.

The Journal noted a few reasons why recent mergers have been held in regulatory limbo:

External factors explain the length of some antitrust probes. Telecom mergers, such as the Comcast and AT&T deals, require an added layer of FCC review. And deals with a strong international component can take longer as firms coordinate with antitrust agencies overseas.

Some atypically long processes could be affecting Denis’ data. Comcast waited 14 months to hear about its bid for Time Warner Cable before ultimately dropping the plan in the face of regulatory pressure. Meanwhile, a review of AT&T’s attempt to acquire DirecTV has been in the works for more than a year.

TIME justice

Cleveland Agrees to Strict New Policing Rules After Federal Probe

Cleveland Police Shooting
John Minchillo—AP Riot police stand in formation as a protest forms against the acquittal of Michael Brelo, a patrolman charged in the shooting deaths of two unarmed suspects, on May 23, 2015, in Cleveland.

New agreement with Justice Department would curtail use of excessive force, and encourage a more diverse police department

The Cleveland Police Department agreed Tuesday to strict, legally binding new regulations, after a Justice Department probe found it had regularly used unnecessarily excessive force.

The department agreed to close oversight from an independent monitor, pledged to overhaul its use of force regulations, and said it would develop a recruitment policy to attract a more diverse force. The city will also create a Community Police Commission, made up of representatives from across the community as well as police representatives.

The new agreement with the DoJ, which will be enforceable in court, is the response to the Justice Department investigation begun in 2013, which concluded in December that the Cleveland Police Department regularly engaged in a pattern of excessive force.

“The Department of Justice is committed to ensuring that every American benefits from a police force that protects and serves all members of the community,” said Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch in a statement. “The agreement we have reached with the city of Cleveland is the result of the hard work and dedication of the entire Cleveland community, and looks to address serious concerns, rebuild trust, and maintain the highest standards of professionalism and integrity.”

U.S. Attorney Steven M. Dettelbach of the Northern District of Ohio said he thinks this agreement can serve as “an example of what true partnership and hard work can accomplish – a transformational blueprint for reform that can be a national model for any police department ready to escort a great city to the forefront of the 21st Century.”

The announcement comes in the wake of widespread unrest in Cleveland following the acquittal of Michael Brelo, a Cleveland police officer who was charged with manslaughter after he climbed on the roof of an unarmed black couple’s car and fired at least 15 shots at close range, killing them both.

In total, Brelo and his fellow officers fired more than 100 shots in eight seconds at Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams after pursuing them in a high-speed chase for 22 miles. After the verdict was announced Saturday, protestors took to the streets of Cleveland, demanding justice and reform.

TIME justice

Attorney General to Investigate Baltimore Police Department

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch appears before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 7, 2015.
Mark Wilson—Getty Images U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch appears before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 7, 2015.

"We're talking about generations of mistrust"

The Justice Department is investigating the Baltimore Police Department to determine whether there is a pattern of discriminatory policing, and whether police are violating residents’ civil rights, Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced Friday.

“It was clear to a number of people looking at the situation that the community’s rather frayed trust was even worse and has been severed,” Lynch told reporters as she announced the investigation. “We’re talking about generations of mistrust, and generations of communities who feel very separated from government.”

Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake requested the investigation on Wednesday, and the Justice Department rarely declines such requests. During the probe, the Justice Department will track the Baltimore Police Department’s use of force, and its pattern of stops, searches and arrests. The Attorney General said that when she first saw the demonstrations and riots in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, “my first reaction was profound sadness, sadness for the loss of life, erosion of trust, for the sadness and despair that the community was feeling.”

The federal investigation comes just a few months after the Justice Department’s report on the Ferguson, Mo. police department following the death of Michael Brown last year, an investigation that uncovered a pattern of racist comments within the police department and led to the resignation of Ferguson’s chief of police.

The Attorney General acknowledged the recent federal investigations into police departments accused of civil rights violations, noting that “we’ve had a number of situations that have highlighted this fracture in various communities.” She added that she hopes these reports can help other jurisdictions maintain a fair law enforcement system.

“Our hope is that other jurisdictions, cities large and small, can look at these reports and say ‘are these the issues that I face?’” she said. “Our goal is to be a resource and a guide, but not to be a hand reaching into police departments…We truly believe that cities and police departments, they know these issues best.”

TIME Crime

Michael Brown’s Family Files Wrongful Death Suit Against City of Ferguson

Benjamin L. Crump, Anthony D. Gray, Lesley McSpadden
Jeff Roberson—AP Lesley McSpadden, mother of Michael Brown, wipes her eye as she is flanked by her attorneys Anthony D. Gray, left, and Benjamin L. Crump, right, during a news conference April 23, 2015, in Clayton, Mo.

But the lawsuit's claims conflict with the findings of a DOJ investigation

A wrongful death lawsuit filed by the parents of Michael Brown against the City of Ferguson, Mo. claims the black teenager had his hands up and told Officer Darren Wilson “don’t shoot” — in contrast to the findings of a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into the incident.

The lawsuit was filed Thursday by Michael Brown Sr., and Lesley McSpadden against the city, Officer Darren Wilson and former Police Chief Thomas Jackson. The family claims that the city engaged in a pattern of unconstitutional behavior involving stops, detentions and arrests, excessive force and a practice of racial bias against the city’s black residents.

There is, however, one key difference between the facts laid out in the family’s civil lawsuit and the DOJ’s findings: the family claims that Brown was holding his hands up at the time of the shooting and told Officer Wilson not to shoot because he was unarmed.

“In a final attempt to protect himself, and prevent additional bodily harm and/or imminent death, MBJ turned around and raised his hands in a non-threatening manner,” the lawsuit says, referring to Brown. “Upon information and belief, MBJ conveyed the following statement to Defendant Wilson: ‘Don’t shoot. I don’t have a gun. I’m unarmed.’”

Although the DOJ report did find a history of explicit racial bias among Ferguson police officers, it concluded that the claim that Brown had his hands up at the time Wilson shot him could not be substantiated by the physical evidence of the crime scene and accounts by credible eyewitnesses. Instead, the federal government found that Brown was running toward Wilson, which contributed to the decision by the justice department not to pursue federal charges against the officer. A grand jury also elected not to charge Wilson, who is white.

After some eyewitnesses claimed Brown had been holding his hands up at the time of his death, the phrase “Hands up, don’t shoot” became a rallying cry of demonstrators in Ferguson and around the country.

The lawsuit asks for punitive and compensatory damages from the city of Ferguson on seven counts of what are described as unconstitutional practices but doesn’t specify a dollar amount. The suit also seeks changes to the police department’s patrol techniques and asks for a compliance monitor to oversee the city’s use of force practices for the next five years or until a court has determined that reforms have taken place.

TIME Companies

Tylenol Maker Admits to Selling Liquid Medicine Contaminated with Metal

Recalled over-the-counter medicines distributed by the McNeil Consumer Healthcare division of Johnson & Johnson including St. Joseph's Aspirin tablets, lot AMM365, Motrin Junior Strength tablets, lot APM303, Tylenol Extra Strength caplets, lot AMA008, and Rolaids Freshmint tablets, lot AFA293, are displayed for a photograph in New York, U.S., on Friday, Jan. 15, 2010. Johnson & Johnson expanded its recall of products possibly tainted with a wood chemical to include Rolaids, Motrin, Children's Tylenol and St. Joseph's Aspirin along with some lots of Benadryl allergy tablets and Tylenol caplets as a "precautionary action" after consumer reports of moldy, musty and mildew-like odors in some of the pills. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Daniel Acker—Bloomberg via Getty Images

A Johnson & Johnson subsidiary will pay $25 million after pleading guilty to a federal crime

The maker of Tylenol pleaded guilty in a Federal Court on Tuesday to selling liquid medicine contaminated with metal.

McNeil Consumer Healthcare, a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary, pleaded guilty in a Federal District Court in Philadelphia to a criminal charge of manufacture and process of adulterated over-the-counter medicines. The company agreed to a $25 million settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice.

The company launched wide-ranging recalls in 2010 of over-the-counter medicines including Infants’ Tylenol and Children’s Motrin.

Those recalls came on the heels of others from 2008 to 2010 that involved hundreds of millions of bottles of Tylenol, Motrin, Benadryl and other consumer products. Metal particles contaminated the liquid medicines, which also suffered from moldy odors and labeling problems.

A spokeswoman for McNeil Consumer Healthcare said the plea agreement “closes a chapter” and that the company has “been implementing enhanced quality and oversight standards across its entire business,” Reuters reports.

Read next: 8 Things You Don’t Know About Supplements

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TIME Crime

How to Rebuild the Ferguson Police Department

Police are deployed to keep peace along Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, Mo. on Aug. 16, 2014.
Scott Olson—Getty Images Police are deployed to keep peace along Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, Mo. on Aug. 16, 2014.

Other troubled local police forces show the way after a scathing federal report

At the end of the U.S. Department of Justice’s report into widespread police misconduct in Ferguson, Mo., are a series of recommended reforms so extensive that it’s as if the law enforcement agency would be best served by tearing the whole thing down and starting from scratch.

That might just be the point.

The report listed a series of overhauls that would require retraining dozens of police officers while upending the agency’s policing strategies, all in an effort to repair the department’s relationship with communities of color in the aftermath of last summer’s shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson. That shooting led to weeks of often violent protests in the St. Louis suburb. And while Wilson was never charged and the federal report largely corroborated his version of events, it nevertheless faulted the mostly white local police for being systemically and violently prejudiced against the majority black town’s residents.

“Members of the community may not have been responding to a single isolated confrontation but also to a pervasive, coercive and deep lack of trust,” Attorney General Eric Holder said of the protesters on Wednesday. “Some of those protesters were right.” He said federal authorities will make sure the local police force takes “immediate, wholesale and structural corrective action.”

MORE: These Are Some of the Racist Emails Ferguson Police Sent

So what’s next?

Ferguson has examples it can look to as it rebuilds: Over the last decade, several U.S. police departments have been subjected to federal oversight. Cincinnati reformed its department after an unarmed black teenager was shot in 2001. Maricopa County‘s force in Arizona was sued by the Department of Justice in 2012 over charges of racially profiling Latinos. Seattle and New Orleans both came under federal scrutiny for excessive force and misconduct.

But the most relevant example might be found in East Haven, Conn.—a town and police force that is similar in size to Ferguson—where the DOJ found a pattern of illegal searches, traffic stops and use of force against Latinos by local cops. In October 2012, the Justice Department reached a settlement with the town to change the police agency’s treatment of Latino residents. Two years later, compliance expert Kathleen O’Toole, now the Seattle police chief, called the progress of the East Haven Police “remarkable.”

The kind of reforms that will likely take place in Ferguson may be similar to what occurred in East Haven. Police officers there each completed 60-100 hours of training on practices like bias-free policing and use of force. One lieutenant attended an executive education program at Harvard’s Kennedy School.

The training appears to have made a difference. In December 2011, the Justice Department found that traffic stops of Latino drivers by the East Haven police accounted for 19.9% of stops, which was more than the percentage of Latino drivers (15.5%). But during the year the police trained—from December 2012 to June 2013—the federal report found that only 8.9% of traffic stops were of Latinos. It cost roughly $2.5 million over four years to reform the department, according to the New Haven Register,

Kym Craven, the director of the Public Safety Strategies Group, a police consulting firm, says that reforms for agencies like Ferguson need to begin at the recruiting and hiring phase to ensure a department’s officers are reflective of its community. She says departments also need to have explicit policies and procedures in place that lay out what police chiefs expect from officers.

Ferguson may go through scenario-based training like what happened in East Haven to better react to situations where implicit racial biases may affect how an officer handles a situation. Those biases, Craven says, should also be talked about honestly and openly within the department and with the community.

But the biggest changes could likely come with a shift toward community policing, which has been routinely discussed as an alternative to the so-called “broken windows” strategy—which focuses on lower-level crimes on the assumption that it helps keep overall crime rates down.

MORE: U.S. Faults Ferguson Police for Racial Bias

The DOJ report’s first recommendation includes implementing a shift from “policing to raise revenue to policing in partnership with the entire Ferguson community,” while calling for more community partnerships between police and residents.

One city that appears to have found success with community policing is Atlanta. Two incidents eroded trust between the city’s residents and the police department over the years: a 2009 incident in which officers raided a gay bar while reportedly using derogatory slurs that triggered a federal lawsuit, and the death of a 92-year-old black woman by a drug strike force team in 2006.

“We lost the confidence in both our black community and the GLBT community,” says Atlanta Police George Turner, who took over the agency in 2010.

Turner soon shifted the department toward community-based policing that required police to get out of their cars, patrol their neighborhoods and engage with citizens. He outfitted cops with less-lethal weapons like TASERs, but sought the community’s involvement in the decision first. The city today has 4,600 surveillance cameras that feed into police headquarters, but the department asked for community input on where they should be placed. Turner has also set up special liaisons with the Hispanic and gay and lesbian communities.

“I think this is the most effective way,” Turner says. “You have to work every day with community leaders. People will give you an opportunity to investigate when crises happen, but you don’t get that unless you have a relationship with people and relationships are built on trust.”

The department has been widely praised by police experts, but it’s a cautionary tale nonetheless: The Atlanta Citizen Review Board actually saw complaints go up between 2012 and 2013, but numbers have remained stable since, according to statistics compiled by the Christian Science Monitor.

“Community policing was something that was started a long time ago, and it’s morphed into community relations,” Craven says. “But departments need to get back to the root of it, which is joint problem-solving between the police and the community. It’s more than having a BBQ or a picnic.”

The Justice Department also appears more willing to fully back community policing in ways it hasn’t in the past. Bob Stewart, president of Bobcat Training and Consulting, says that in the last two years, consent decrees—which are court-mandated orders that require police departments to follow federal guidelines—have increasingly recommended initiatives that deal with community trust and civilian oversight.

It’s likely that Ferguson will eventually be the subject of a consent decree, forcing the town’s police department to reform. But it’s possible that those reforms, taking place at a police department that drove a national conversation about race and use of force nationwide last summer, could be the focus of a new discussion, one about better ways of policing.

TIME Justice Department

President Obama Gives Teary Send-Off to Attorney General Holder

Attorney General Eric Holder's official portait Image Courtesy of the Department of Justice

Notes Attorney General Eric Holder's stance on civil rights in his parting address

The President got misty-eyed during the unveiling of Attorney General Eric Holder’s official portrait Friday when he shared a story about the impact he believes Holder has had outside of the Department of Justice.

President Obama said he hosted a number of young men who are mentees under his My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which is celebrating its first anniversary, for a White House lunch on Friday. As the students, all black and Latino young men from around the Washington area, went around the table sharing their life aspirations, one said he wanted to be the Attorney General when he grew up. That moment clearly touched the President, who wiped away tears as he shared it with the departing Attorney General.

“I think about all the young people out there who have seen you work and have been able to get an innate sense that you’re a good man,” Obama said. “Having good men in positions of power and authority who are willing to fight for what’s right … that’s a rare thing. That’s a powerful thing.”

Obama listed Holder’s accomplishments as the third longest serving Attorney General and the first African American to hold the job. Throughout his tenure Holder made criminal-justice reform and civil rights priorities of the Justice Department, including his recent efforts to challenge strict voting laws.

During his prepared remarks, a teary-eyed Holder said there was still work to be done on civil rights and criminal-justice reform.

“Make no mistake. We still have unfinished business and work to do,” Holder said. “In the defense of our nation we must always adhere to the values that define us. And, at all costs, the right to vote must be protected.”

The unveiling came just days after the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to approve the nomination of Loretta Lynch, who was tapped to replace Holder. The President said the Department of Justice is being left in “outstanding hands.”

TIME Companies

S&P to Pay Nearly $1.4 Billion to Settle Financial Crisis-Era Suits

Standard Poors Settlement
Henny Ray Abrams—AP 55 Water Street, home of Standard & Poor's, in New York City.

Lawsuit alleged the ratings firm had defrauded investors by issuing inflated ratings

Standard & Poor’s Financial Services has agreed to pay $1.375 billion to settle a Justice Department-led lawsuit that alleges the ratings firm had defrauded investors by issuing inflated ratings in the years preceding the financial crisis.

Under the terms of the settlement, the company agreed to split the settlement, paying $687.5 million to the Justice Department with an equal amount paid to 19 states and the District of Columbia, which filed their lawsuits after the federal government. The settlement contains no findings of violations of law by the company, notes McGraw Hill Financial, the parent company to ratings firm S&P.

The case, which stems from a 2013 lawsuit filed by the Justice Department, put the ratings firm at odds with the U.S. government over allegations that S&P had issued inflated ratings that misrepresented the true credit risks of the residential mortgage-backed securities and other ratings it weighed in on. Most media reports say that the feud was triggered by the ratings firm’s surprise downgrade of the U.S. government’s sovereign credit rating in 2011, a move that shocked observers. S&P still rates the U.S. at double-A-plus, which is one level below the prized triple-A rating held by Canada, Australia and a handful of wealthy European nations.

The complaint alleged that S&P falsely represented that its ratings were objective and uninfluenced by the firm’s relationship with investment banks. The Justice Department further contended that S&P was swayed by its desire to boost revenue and profits by winning business from those banking institutions.

S&P, along with Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Ratings, hold a near monopoly on the credit ratings business, issuing ratings that can help investors determine if it is safe to buy bonds. The ratings are supposed to be objective, but banks pay for the business and that creates a conflict of interest according to some critics of the practice. The Justice Department, when it filed its suit in February 2013, said that it believed the S&P’s rosy ratings played “an important role in helping to bring our economy to the brink of collapse.”

McGraw Hill’s settlement is related to ratings issued between 2004 and 2007. The settlement will be reflected in McGraw Hill’s fourth-quarter results, which are due to be reported on Feb. 12. The company also reached a separate settlement with the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, or Calpers, to resolve some ratings claims. That settlement totaled $125 million.

S&P said it agreed to settle the matter to “avoid the delay, uncertainty, inconvenience, and expense of further litigation.” With that settlement now secured, the government is reportedly investigating Moody’s for the favorable ratings it allegedly issued before the financial crisis.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME Justice Department

Sloppy Russian ‘Spymasters’ Burn a Deep Cover Operative in New York

Busted in the Bronx, he faces 20 years in prison.

Monday was a bad day for Evgeny “Zhenya” Buryakov, the alleged spy arrested in the Bronx for his role as a deep cover case officer in a Russian ring targeting female university students, business consultants and the operations of the bank at which Buryakov worked. But it was an even worse day for his alleged spymasters, two Russian officials operating under diplomatic immunity who come across as sloppy, bureaucratic buffoons in the Justice department complaint detailing the alleged conspiracy.

Buryakov nominally faces up to 20 years in prison on two charges of acting as a foreign agent. But practically speaking he will only have to cool his heels in a U.S. jail for a few weeks or months until officials in Moscow find a suitable American operative to arrest and trade for him. Thereafter, he’ll likely return to Moscow, and given what appears to be fairly entrepreneurial work as a deep cover agent in New York, he can probably expect to thrive in the public or private sector there.

His two bosses, on the other hand, broke basic tradecraft rules and exposed Buryakov’s work, as well as other intelligence efforts by the Russian espionage services, according to the complaint. Both have already left the U.S. for other assignments. And while the days of banishment to Siberia for failed spy-handlers are long gone, the two at least face a grim professional future of pushing paper in the bowels of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service in Moscow.

Buryakov was a particularly valuable asset known as a “NOC,” operating under “non-official cover,” according to the complaint. A regular employee of a bank in New York, with no diplomatic immunity, he was able to gain valuable economic intelligence that a Russian government official—even one pretending to be a normal diplomat not a spy—wouldn’t have easy access to, according to the complaint. Placing and maintaining NOC’s is one of the more challenging aspects of running spies in a foreign country.

But Igor Sporyshev, a Russian Trade Representative in New York, and Victor Podobnyy, an attaché to the Russian United Nations mission, managed to expose Buryakov by calling him on an open phone line and by using his true name in a conversation in the New York offices of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Services (SVR) which were apparently being bugged by the FBI’s counterintelligence division.

Even before they outed their deep cover man, the two come across as buffoons in the complaint. In April 2013, the Justice department recounts, Podobnyy tells Sporyshev how disappointed he is at how boring the life a spy runner is, contrasting his life with a James Bond movie. Sporyshev responds that he always “thought that at least I would go abroad with a different passport,” according to the complaint.

The two men also discussed their attempts to recruit young women from a financial consulting firm and from a major university in New York, which a Justice Department official identifies as New York University. Sporyshev blusters that “in order to be close you either need to —k them or use other levers to influence them to execute my requests. So when you tell me about girls, in my experience, it’s very rare that something workable will come of it,” according to the complaint.

But it is in the exposure of the NOC Buryakov that Sporyshev and Podobnyy really shine. First, in May 2013, Sporyshev calls up Buryakov over a phone that was being monitored by the FBI and announces that he needs his help. Sporyshev says a Russian news organization acting on behest of the SVR wants to know what questions to ask a source about the New York Stock Exchange, the complaint claims. Sporyshev says he needs the questions in 15 minutes.

Twenty minutes later, according to the complaint, Buryakov calls back and tells Sporyshev the news organization should ask about how Exchange Traded Funds could be “mechanisms of use for destabilization of markets” (Buryakov has to correct Sporyshev who thinks he says “stabilization”). Buryakov also points Sporyshev towards the issue of automated trading robots, and says he could also ask about the interest of NYSE participants in products tied to the Russia.

Buryakov later shows himself to be entrepreneurial in his efforts. In November 2012 and March 2013, he attended conferences in a foreign country for the bank he worked for, and gathered intelligence about a potential airplane deal that could benefit Russia, the Justice department alleges. The deal was potentially a good one for Russia as it would bring jobs and technology, but unions in the company’s home country were resisting, the complaint says.

Buryakov drafted and submitted to Sporyshev and Pobodnyy a proposal recommending that the SVR’s “Active Measures Directorate” take steps “towards pressuring the unions and securing from the company a solution that is beneficial to us,” according a recording the FBI made of a conversation between the two spy-runners in the SVR offices in late May 2013.

Having a deep cover operative who is capable of getting inside a potential trade deal and is clever enough to see how it might be positively influenced is, despite what movie watchers like Sporyshev and Pobodnyy might think, an unusually fortunate set of circumstances for a spy service. But the bureaucratic Pobodnyy hesitates, according to the complaint, because the action is taking place in the country Buryakov visited for the conference:

VP: It’s strange to offer a [Country-2] proposal from New York.

IS: Why?

VP: It’s considered bad taste. What the —k? Can’t [Country-2] sort this out?

Ultimately, Buryakov’s aggressiveness tripped him up. In the summer of 2014, the complaint alleges, Buryakov met a wealthy investor looking to develop casinos in Russia and willing to trade U.S. Treasury documents he’d obtained from a friend in exchange for help setting up a deal—a plot-line worthy of “American Hustle.” The investor was in fact an undercover FBI agent.

But if Buryakov was naïve, his handlers didn’t do much to protect him. Sporyshev said it sounded like “some sort of a set up. Trap of some sort.” But rather than warning Buryakov off, Sporyshev told him to go ahead and meet an associate of the “investor”: “You will look and decide for yourself.” Later in the summer, Buryakov allegedly received documents purporting to be from the U.S. Treasury regarding sanctions against Russia and passed them along to Sporyshev at a clandestine meeting.

Acting as a foreign agent without registering with the Justice department is a crime in the U.S., as is receiving coded documents and passing them along. And now Buryakov is under arrest.

TIME Law

Feds Limit Law that Lets Cops Seize Your Stuff

Enacts major limitations on federal civil forefeiture law that allow police to seize assets without evidence of wrongdoing

Attorney General Eric Holder announced Friday that state and local officials would no longer be allowed to use federal law to seize private property such as cash or cars without evidence that a crime had occurred.

It’s the first major reform of a program launched as part of the so-called War on Drugs that has allowed police to confiscate billions of dollars in cash, vehicles and other types of property without evidence of wrongdoing. Since 2008, state and local agencies have seized $3 billion worth of property through more than 55,000 stops and seizures, and 80% of the proceeds go to local police departments or drug task forces, according to the Washington Post.

“With this new policy, effective immediately, the Justice Department is taking an important step to prohibit federal agency adoptions of state and local seizures, except for public safety reasons,” Attorney General Holder said in a statement. “This is the first step in a comprehensive review that we have launched of the federal asset forfeiture program.”

Federal asset forfeiture laws allow police to pull over motorists and seize property when there is suspicion of wrongdoing. Citizens must then prove that the property was legally acquired in order to get it back. That is often a costly and lengthy process; only one out of six seizures are legally challenged, according to the Post.

The unclaimed seized assets are then re-distributed among law enforcement agencies and the federal government. Between 2001 and 2014, state and local authorities have kept more than $1.7 billion through these kinds of seizures, while some $800 million has gone to the Justice Department, Homeland Security, and other federal agencies. Of those seizures, half were worth less than $8,800.

The new limitations announced Friday do not apply to property that could threaten public safety, like firearms, explosives, or child pornography.

For an in-depth explanation of the forfeiture program, check out the Washington Post’s investigation, which counted all the stops and seizures since 9/11 and traced how the money was used. For a more comic explanation, you can turn to John Oliver:

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