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:

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."

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.


Anonymous said...

This was going on in Missouri a few years back. Despite a state law mandating that all proceeds from drug related forfeitures go to education, the cops were found to be engaging in money laundering.

In Kansas City the PD was found to be giving the money to the FBI who then returned it to the cops, and in some cases the handoff was made in brown paper bags.

Yep, you guessed it, nobody went to jail.

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure TxDPS funded most of their palatial regional headquarters in northwest Harris county with drug seizure money.

Anonymous said...

I'm a retired DEA Agent and your knowledge of these abuses don't scratch the surface. Seized money is a funding mechanism just like all of the other federal programs like OCDETF. It's completed corrupted enforcement and it's caused too much enforcement at the wrong levels. Make traffickers fund the ones they addict with their sezied money and it will begin to bring all of the 2nd and 3rd order effects in balance with reality. One day you read about DEA Agents fighting opium traffickers in Afghanistan but the next day they've teamed up with 14 different law enforcement agencies and arrested 40 MUTTS who all lived in the same area; and didn't have a dime between them. Worldly aspirations with too many local ties.

Anonymous said...

As we are already witnessing, as the economy contracts, and budgetary funding for DrugWar operations becomes ever more restrictive ('guns or butter'), there will be more pressures on law enforcement to 'make up the difference'.

The problem as has been mentioned in the article that, just as predicted 20+ years ago at its' inception, law enforcement has become addicted to the 'easy money' of forfeiture, and will more actively promote the use of tactics, however shady, in order to maintain their 'fix'. This in turn will eventually cause even more alienation and friction between law enforcement and its' paymasters, the public (that money doesn't magically appear in LEO's bank accounts from some alternate universe). This can only worsen an already bad situation.

Law enforcement is trapped in a sick, symbiotic relationship with the very illicit drug dealers they seek to destroy. But due to the ever expanding number of their opponents, increasing the 'herd', they will never be able to 'eat' all they 'kill'...and what they do 'eat' is tainted. Something's got to 'give'...and soon.

Anonymous said...

Does anybody really believe that there was any kind of honest intent to this system from the start ?

I mean think about the kind of scumbags that most politicians are and then think of the mafia like tactics used by police agencies nationally to avoid scrutiny or oversight and then throw this into the mix.....right

Anonymous said...

You think there is ACTUALLY corruption in Politics and in the Police Forces?.. NAW, they are out for OUR best interests. I am quite sure the Sheriff thinks about how to look out for our interests every time he goes to the FORD dealer.