Police Board Tells Department To Follow State Laws

Police Board Tells Department To Follow State Laws
Posted by FoM on June 23, 2000 at 06:29:41 PT
By Karen Dillion - The Kansas City Star
Source: Kansas City Star
Under mounting pressure, the Kansas City police board ordered the department Thursday to follow state law when seizing drug money and property. Kansas City is thought to be the first major law enforcement agency to adopt a policy of following Missouri forfeiture law, which usually sends such money to education, instead of working often with federal agencies to keep seized money. 
The board also agreed Thursday not to fight a lawsuit filed by the Missouri attorney general seeking $3.5 million in cash as well as other property that Kansas City police have been holding onto for several years. The money and property come from seizures, unclaimed money and other types of cash that under state law should have gone to schools in four counties as well as county and state treasuries. The money already had been set aside by police pending a decision on where it should go. The board said it would turn the cash over to the Jackson County judge handling the lawsuit and ask for an order to allow the department to auction the property, with proceeds to be held by the court. Both of the board's actions came after weeks of adverse publicity. "It's to the point that my own stepdaughter thinks we are wrong," said police board member Joe Mulvihill. Attorney General Jay Nixon's lawsuit was filed a week ago. Last month, The Kansas City Star published a series of stories showing that police across the country evade state laws with the help of federal agencies to keep millions of dollars in drug money. To prevent a conflict of interest, many states have laws that prohibit police from directly profiting from crime-fighting. In Missouri, the constitution generally requires the money to go to education. But The Star found that, instead of following state laws, police often hand off drug money they seize to a federal law enforcement agency that then returns a portion, usually 80 percent, to police. This week state Sen. Harry Wiggins, a Kansas City Democrat, sent a letter to the police board asking that it fully support a bill he is sponsoring. The bill would force Missouri police to follow state forfeiture laws. During Thursday's special meeting of the Board of Police Commissioners, the three members who attended -- Mulvihill, Stacey Daniels and Dennis Eckold -- voted unanimously to adopt a policy based on Wiggins' bill. A written policy will be presented to the board Tuesday. Wiggins was delighted when contacted later. "The police commissioners have shown the state how to represent law enforcement and how to represent the public," Wiggins said. "This is magnificent." State Sen. Ronnie DePasco, a Kansas City Democrat who attended the meeting, said the support of Kansas City police would help the bill in the next legislative session. "It is the right thing to do instead of waiting for it to pass until February next year," said DePasco, majority floor leader. DePasco said he hoped other agencies around the state would follow. But he said rural law enforcement has been stubborn about the legislation. "(They) are opposed to giving the money to the school districts," DePasco said. Mulvihill, who proposed the policy, estimated that Kansas City police have been receiving $1 million a year in forfeiture money. "With a $120 million budget, it doesn't seem like this million dollars is worth all this adverse publicity," Mulvihill said. "I think we should quit this questionable policy." Last week the board also came under fire when the attorney general filed his lawsuit involving the $3.5 million. The lawsuit stems from a story The Star published in 1996 about the money. In 1997, the department filed a friendly lawsuit asking a judge to decide where the money was to go. But in March of this year, Dale Close, the department's attorney, asked that the lawsuit be dismissed. When Nixon filed a new lawsuit based on the money, it caught police board commissioners by surprise even though Nixon had sent a letter to Eckold, the board president, and faxed a letter to Close almost two weeks before the lawsuit was filed. Eckold said he never received his letter. In the two letters, Nixon outlined the travails his attorneys went through trying to negotiate with Close before filing the lawsuit. Board members Thursday raised concerns about why Close never told them he was negotiating with Nixon's attorneys for two months. "Why didn't we just follow through with the lawsuit we had filed?" Mulvihill asked. "Or why didn't we cooperate with the attorney general's office after the case was dismissed? "But the more important issue is apparently we have alienated the attorney general." Mulvihill read aloud the portion of the letter that discussed how a conference call had been scheduled between Close, department personnel and Nixon's attorneys. When the attorneys called, they received Close's answering machine. They left a message but he never returned the call, the letter said. Close said he thought Nixon's attorneys just wanted to schedule a meeting to come to Kansas City. When asked why he did not tell the board that Nixon was planning to file the lawsuit, Close said he thought he had gotten the matter resolved after receiving the letter. He immediately telephoned Nixon and they agreed to continue the negotiations. But Nixon said the information his office then received from the department was inconsistent, and he finally filed the lawsuit. "We will be encouraged by any steps in the right direction," Scott Holste, an attorney general's spokesman, said Thursday of the board's decision not to fight the lawsuit. Allan Hallquist, an attorney for the Kansas City School District, said he was pleased but cautious. He said he did not think that the department had procedures in place to prevent it from keeping property and money in the future. "I am pleased the matter is resolved for the time being," Hallquist said. "I'm not convinced we won't be back in five years. I hope the board examines the procedures that need to be in place so that the problem isn't repeated in the future." To reach Karen Dillon, call (816) 234-4430 or send e-mail to: kdillon kcstar.comPublished: June 22, 2000All content  2000 The Kansas City Star  Related Articles & Web Site:F.E.A.R. Forfeiture Practice Raises Ethics, Freedom Economics of War on Drugs Kansas City Star's "Protect and Collect" Series:Police, Federal Agencies Resist Change 
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