Forfeitures of Property, Possessions On The Rise

Forfeitures of Property, Possessions On The Rise
Posted by CN Staff on February 18, 2008 at 21:45:05 PT
By Janna Goerdt, Duluth News Tribune
Source: Duluth News-Tribune
Minnesota -- Once in a while, it’s a windfall for law enforcement agencies. More often, it’s a modest money-maker and public safety improvement. Sometimes, it’s a sinkhole.But one thing is certain when it comes to seizing vehicles from repeat drunken drivers and cash and firearms from drug dealers: Area law enforcement agencies are getting better at it.
When the Duluth Police Department began seizing vehicles from repeat DUI offenders in 1998 — the year the state Legislature authorized such seizures — it ended up with just a few cars a year, Officer Sharon Montgomery said. In 2006, the department seized 30 vehicles from DUI offenders. Forfeiture is a tool being used more widely and consistently in recent years as the state has tightened up loopholes in the laws and departments have become better at understanding the system.Federal and state laws allow law enforcement agencies to seize and either keep, destroy or sell certain properties from people convicted of drunken driving, drug offenses and other crimes. They are complicated sets of rules that take into account a person’s current and past offenses and aggravating factors. A typical DUI vehicle forfeiture, for example, would involve someone with a documented history of driving drunk.Statewide, the reported gross value of seized property from drug and gang cases rose from $1.7 million in 2002 to $3.9 million in 2006. DUI forfeiture data is not tracked by the state.Part of that increase may be due to better reporting of forfeited property. But part also is due to more departments handling more forfeiture cases for DUI and drug-related offenses, according to area law enforcement agencies.“We used to take one or two [vehicles] a year,” said Detective Dennis Benz of the Virginia Police Department. “But about five years ago, we really started” administering a higher number of forfeitures. Today, the Virginia Police Department handles about a dozen DUI vehicle forfeitures a year, and in 2006 it handled 10 drug forfeiture incidents ranging from less than $10 to nearly $700 in cash.If the assets are sold, the pertinent agency is entitled to 70 percent of the net proceeds. The remainder is divided between the state and the prosecuting attorney’s office, generally the county attorney.That makes forfeiture “a two-pronged approach” to fighting crime, said Lt. Dan Chicos of the Duluth Police Department. The immediate effect of most seizures is taking away someone’s opportunity to commit a crime, either by driving drunk or dealing drugs, said Chicos, also the commander of the Lake Superior Drug Task Force.The second prong allows departments to use the proceeds to buy equipment and extra training for officers. The Cloquet Police Department, for instance, recently purchased several in-squad cameras and preliminary breathalyzer tests with its forfeiture proceedings, and the Duluth Police Department remodeled its DUI intake room with its proceedings.“The money doesn’t go into the police officers’ pockets; it goes into the public’s pockets,” said Terry Hill, deputy chief of the Cloquet Police Department.But many law enforcement agencies seem to be aware of the perception that they are selective with seizures, particularly when it comes to vehicles — that the good stuff is seized and the junkers drive away.Many departments said they try to combat that idea by seizing every vehicle that falls within the guidelines, whether it‘s worth “$500 or $50,000,” Hill said. Officials with the Duluth, Hermantown, Proctor, and Cloquet Police Departments all said they don’t discriminate when it comes to vehicle seizures.But what may look like an asset to a department can actually be a drain on staff time and resources.“This is a very long and complicated process,” Hermantown Police Chief Mike Anderson said. It can take months and even years for a case to work its way through the court system, and until there’s a conviction, the vehicle sits. The Hermantown Police Department has kept vehicles for more than four years; the Cloquet Police Department has a few that have lingered for three years. There have been break-ins and vandalism to cars at the Duluth police impound lots, Chicos said.And during that time, departments are paying impound fees and officers are pumping up flat tires and jump-starting idled vehicles. “Are we here to do this for the business?” asked Benz. “We are not. We’re here to deter the person from [drunken] driving. … We don’t like it, but we have to do it.”Not all law enforcement agencies aggressively apply the forfeiture laws. The Superior Police Department didn’t seize any vehicles last year for drunken driving, and the department is more selective than others when deciding whether to seize assets from drug busts.Part of the reason, Capt. Matt Markon said, is that Wisconsin’s forfeiture laws are more complicated and allow more chances for people to contest the proceedings.“Some of these vehicles aren’t in the best shape to begin with,” Markon said. “Some of them are junkers; it doesn’t serve any purpose for us to take some of those vehicles.”The department seized two Corvettes from drug dealers about 10 years ago, Markon said. One vehicle was sold, the other is still in use as a parade vehicle advertising the department’s DARE program. As for the perception that agencies only want valuable items, Markon said, “There may be some validity to it.”“But at the same time,” he said, “we have to look at how much we can do with the resources we have available.”Forfeitures are extremely inconsistent from year to year, meaning departments can’t count on the proceedings for income. For instance, the Eveleth Police Department netted $23,288 in drug forfeitures in 2005, and $2,529 in 2006.But when agencies make a big bust, it can mean a big windfall.The Two Harbors Police Department worked with Lake County Sherriff’s Office in 2006 on a large marijuana bust in Larsmont. After a hunter reported finding a “pot orchard,” the two agencies discovered a father and son entwined in a marijuana-growing operation. Under the forfeiture laws, the agencies were able to seize his home, valued at about $400,000, Two Harbors Assistant Police Chief Kevin Ruberg said. The property owner contested the seizure, and the matter ended up being settled out of court, with Swanson agreeing to a $75,000 direct payment to the law enforcement agencies. The Two Harbors Police Department saw $26,000 of that, bringing their total drug forfeiture proceeds for the past several years to about $27,000. Ruberg said the department would like to purchase in-squad cameras with some of that money.“Forfeitures aren’t a big revenue builder for us,” Ruberg said. “For some departments, they can be.”Complete Title: Forfeitures of Repeat Offenders’ Property, Possessions on The RiseSource: Duluth News-Tribune (MN)Author: Janna Goerdt, Duluth News TribunePublished: Tuesday, February 19, 2008Copyright: 2008 Duluth News-TribuneContact:  letters duluthnews.comWebsite: Justice Archives
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Comment #9 posted by afterburner on May 15, 2008 at 08:13:35 PT
Confusing Journalism: Who the Bleep Is Swanson? 
"The property owner contested the seizure, and the matter ended up being settled out of court, with Swanson agreeing to a $75,000 direct payment to the law enforcement agencies." Is Swanson the property owner or one of the father and son marijuana-growing operation defendants?Forfeitures: "What a revolting development!" -Jimmy DuranteWelcome, LoveHaightorg. 
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Comment #8 posted by FoM on May 15, 2008 at 06:44:58 PT
Welcome to CNews. I like your web site. I hope someone can answer your question. I just don't know the answer.
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Comment #7 posted by LoveHaightorg on May 15, 2008 at 05:33:37 PT:
Asset Forfeiture Question
I have lived in Europe most of the past 18 years and have never seen anything like ASSet forfeiture here.I am returning to the states next year so my wife can get an american passport. We will be travelling thru the states in a small motor home.Will the police be able to take our property if they find less than an ounce of weed (or law relative to the state we're in) in the car?MOVE TO PRAGUE! THE COUNTRY CODE FOR CZECH IS 420, THEY SMOKE WEED IN THE CLUBS AND BARS, AND ON THE STREETS, AND THERE ARE NO CRAZY FORFEITURE LAWS HERE... NOR THE BULLSHIT PATRIOT ACT!!!!
The Haight-Ashbury Homepage
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Comment #6 posted by JohnO on February 22, 2008 at 18:25:02 PT:
They can lie....
...but we don't have to let them get away with it. I for one do not believe that forfeitures aren't the prime motivation for continuing the drug war. The fact that this one department reported a drop in asset seizures says more about their ability to hide misappropriation of assets than the inconsistency of available targets. *Forfeitures are extremely inconsistent from year to year, meaning departments can’t count on the proceedings for income. For instance, the Eveleth Police Department netted $23,288 in drug forfeitures in 2005, and $2,529 in 2006.*Who wouldn't love a tax free source of income? JohnO
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Comment #5 posted by LaGuardia on February 19, 2008 at 19:49:34 PT
It's all about the benjamins.  We need to get civil asset forfeiture either eliminated or changed so that the law enforcement agency gets 0% of the forfeiture (i.e. 100% goes to the general treasury/revenue fund). That would eliminate the law enforcement profit motive that fuels the War on Drugs.
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Comment #4 posted by FoM on February 19, 2008 at 17:47:57 PT
It's good to see you.
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Comment #3 posted by MikeEEEEE on February 19, 2008 at 17:45:51 PT
$ $  
Money and/or real-estate is the motive in any war.Hello FoM.
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Comment #2 posted by Had Enough on February 19, 2008 at 07:31:09 PT
Once Bitten – Twice Shy
Florida’s Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office in the news again.Jail accused of culture of abuseA second video shows possible mistreatment in Hillsborough.TAMPA - For the second time in a week, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office faces a claim of a deputy abusing an inmate at Orient Road Jail.Click to see…
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Comment #1 posted by The GCW on February 19, 2008 at 04:54:48 PT
When the school yard bully takes Your lunch money, that's forfeiture.Now they are adults and better at it.-0-Now THAT'S a drug cartel.
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