If law enforcement is so brazenly violating federal restrictions on using forfeitures to supplant their own budgets, that's one more good reason for the Legislature to consider taking a portion of those funds to finance drug courts and treatment programs.
Federal and state rules governing asset forfeiture explicitly discourage law enforcement agencies from supplementing their budgets with seized drug money or allowing the prospect of those funds to influence law enforcement decisions.
There is a law enforcement culture — particularly in the South — in which police agencies have grown, in the words of one state senator from South Texas, "addicted to drug money."
Part of the problem lies with governing bodies that count on the dirty money and, in essence, force public safety departments to freelance their own funding.
In Kleberg County, where Kingsville is the county seat, Sheriff Ed Mata drives a gleaming new police-package Ford Expedition bought with drug funds. This year, he went to his commissioners to ask for more new vehicles.
"They said, 'Well, there ain't no money, use your assets,' " he says. He says his office needs the money "to continue to operate on the magnitude we need."
Another county agency, the Kingsville Specialized Crimes and Narcotics Task Force, survives solely on seized cash. Said one neighboring lawman, "They eat what they kill." A review by NPR shows at least three other Texas task forces that also are funded exclusively by confiscated drug assets.
The concern here is that allowing sworn peace officers — who are entrusted with enormous powers — to make money off police work distorts criminal justice.
"We're not going to sidestep the law and seize people's money just for the financial gains of the department," Tamez says. "It's not going to happen."
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Asset-forfeiture dependent Sheriff views Hwy 77 as a "piggy bank"
Not long after the Texas State Senate held an informative hearing on law enforcement's use and misuse of asset forfeiture funds, NPR's John Burnett offered up this report I'd missed giving a global overview on the topic, but profiling specifically the Kleberg County Sheriff, who called US Hwy 77 a "piggy bank." Reported Burnett: