One person's forfeit is law enforcement's gainWhen criminals are caught, they not only risk losing their freedom, they may also lose their property. Forfeited property seized by law enforcement agencies can add up to significant dollars – more than $66,000 in the Douglas County region last year.
By: Celeste Beam, Alexandria Echo Press
When criminals are caught, they not only risk losing their freedom, they may also lose their property.
Forfeited property seized by law enforcement agencies can add up to significant dollars – more than $66,000 in the Douglas County region last year.
That’s according to the state auditor’s office 2007 Criminal Forfeitures Report released last week and information gleaned from local law enforcement authorities.
Forfeitures often equal revenues for police departments, sheriff’s offices and drug task forces.
According to the report, law enforcement agencies receive funds from forfeitures in three primary ways:
•The item forfeited was cash.
•The forfeited item was sold.
•An agreement required monetary compensation to the agency.
The numbers in the report, however, don’t represent the total revenue earned by these departments because they don’t include forfeitures related to driving under the influence (DUI) offenses.
For instance, according to the report, the gross sales value for the Alexandria Police Department for 2007 was $5,166. Once expenses ($4,112) were deducted, the net proceeds – for the seven reported forfeitures – were $1,054.
Alexandria Police Chief Rick Wyffels said law enforcement agencies only need to report to the state if confiscated property comes from a felony-level incident, such as a felony burglary or it was drug-related.
If property was seized during a DUI or other type of local arrest, such as fleeing a peace officer, agencies don’t have to report it to the state.
So in 2007, the total net proceeds from forfeitures for the Alexandria Police Department totaled $18,541.
The chief also noted that the numbers for 2008 are already in – total profits (net proceeds) for forfeitures this year were $21,991.
Wyffels explained that when money or items come in from forfeitures, proceeds don’t all go to the police department. A portion of the money goes to the prosecuting agency involved and if it is felony-level, a portion of the money goes to the state.
Forfeiture money for the police department, according to the chief, is turned over to the general fund and used for drug and alcohol enforcement and education, even for police officers.
If a vehicle is seized and the department decides to keep it, like it did in 2007 with a 2005 Ford Mustang, it needs to be used for one of three purposes – education, as in the DARE program; exposure, as in showing people what can happen if they disobey the law; and “stealth mode,” as in during the Safe and Sober campaigns.
The Mustang is mostly used by the department’s school resource officer who works with the DARE program.
According to the report, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office didn’t have any reported forfeitures in 2007.
However, according to Sheriff Troy Wolbersen, his department did receive revenue from forfeitures – mostly from DUIs.
Sara Sibell with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office said the total net profits for 2007 for the sheriff’s office was about $11,000, with the money being split 70/30 to the department and to the prosecutors involved.
She also noted that the sheriff’s office seized a vehicle in 2007, valued at about $18,000, which was retained for law enforcement use.
This past spring, the sheriff’s office also received about $3,200 in revenue from sales generated from gun forfeitures.
Sergeant Dave Ahlquist explained that the sheriff’s office seizes guns and then typically stockpiles them for a couple of years because the guns can only be sold to federally licensed firearms dealers.
And because the law enforcement agency doesn’t get that many guns, it waits until there is enough to sell.
An auction was held in Ashby with several other counties, noted Ahlquist. Douglas County sold about 40 guns and it destroyed about 50 guns.
The majority of guns that are seized by the sheriff’s office are returned to the rightful owner, noted Ahlquist, adding that there are “very strict rules” when it comes to firearms and what can be done with them.
Money generated from gun sales goes back to the general fund, Ahlquist added.
All drug-related forfeitures go to the West Central Minnesota Drug Task Force, which according to the Criminal Forfeitures Report, received net profits of $19,161 in 2007.
To view the whole report, visit the state auditor’s Web site at www.auditor.state.mn.us and then click on “Reports and Data” and then on “Criminal Forfeitures.”