WASHINGTON — Leaders of the House and Senate Judiciary committees Friday called on the Justice Department to end the sharing of civil seizure proceeds with local and state police, a change that with few exceptions would cut the flow of hundreds of million of dollars annually to departments in every state.

In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, the lawmakers said they think money from Justice’s Equitable Sharing Program, the federal government’s largest civil asset forfeiture initiative, may be encouraging heavy-handed tactics by local and state police agencies.

Equitable Sharing allows police who seize property under federal civil law to keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds, while Justice and other participating federal agencies can keep 20 percent or more.

In 2012, the most recent year of complete data available to The Washington Post, seizures worth more than $1.5 billion in cash, cars and other property were processed through the program.

“We are concerned that these seizures might circumvent state forfeiture law restrictions, create improper incentives on the part of state and local law enforcement, and unnecessarily burden our federal authorities,” the letter said.

The letter was signed by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee; Rep. James Sensenbrenner , R-Wis., chairman of the House Judiciary subcommittee on crime, terrorism, homeland security and investigations; Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich.; and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.

Their call for change comes as Justice is conducting “an internal, top-to-bottom review of its entire asset forfeiture program,” the letter said. That review, which has been ongoing for months, is aimed at improving civil liberties protections of Americans, while also enabling the use of civil seizures to fight crime and terror.

“Over the past year, we have been engaged in a comprehensive review of the Asset Forfeiture Program, including consideration of changes to the adoption policy, as well as other aspects of the program,” Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr said in a statement. “The purpose of this ongoing review is to ensure that the department uses federal asset forfeiture authorities carefully and effectively.”

That effort follows a Washington Post investigation in September that found that nearly 62,000 cash seizures worth more than $2.5 billion have been made through Equitable Sharing since Sept. 11, 2001, without search warrants or indictments. The departments of Justice and Homeland Security received $800 million of that total, while thousands of local and state agencies kept the rest.

Sensenbrenner launched an investigation of federal civil asset forfeiture. Sensenbrenner, Grassley, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and others have begun crafting legislation that would overhaul civil asset forfeiture laws.