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Policing for Profit? Lockport, NY Police Department Uses Civil Asset Forfeiture Funds to Buy Cameras

pexels-andre-furtado-3989612-300x200Drug money seized from a DEA task force investigation will fund five of Lockport Police Department’s in-car camera equipment, news sources report. The amount of money recovered throughout the area totals $23,363.43–half of which the City Council approved to be allocated for Lockport’s capital budget.

The forfeiture amount will cover the purchase of two advanced camera equipment per vehicle: placed in front and the rear to simultaneously record settings in addition to a police officer’s body cam. It is said to have night-vision technology suitable for reading license plates in the dark. While the remaining portion of the funds will be allocated for the purchase of new desks and chairs in LPD’s briefing room.

Prior to the war on drugs, civil asset forfeiture funds were not commonly used for the capital budget. However, as of 1970, according to Section 881 of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act, civil forfeiture proceeds may be deposited in the U.S Treasury General Fund. And in 1986, the revised statement augments the “Equitable Sharing Program” which authorizes local agencies and the State up to 80% of forfeiture proceeds from enforcement actions to be dispensed for official use.

In 2019, Lockport issued a new memorandum on increasing the percentage of forfeiture funds entitlement for both the LPD and the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office. Particularly, LPD receives a 10% increase of the drug task force funds compared to receiving 5% from previous years. The budgeting cycle for local police departments allocates a capital budget for the purchase of expensive items. In order for an item to be categorized under the capital budget it must meet three requirements: (1) it is a tangible asset, (2) it is for long term use with a life expectancy of over 1 year, and (3) it exceeds a minimum cost threshold established by governing authority ($500 – $20,000).

Given that capital budget requests go through a rigorous process, many lawmakers argue that justifying capital expenditures from forfeiture funds results in “policing for profit,” in order to account for local budgetary shortage. There’s been empirical evidence showing police agencies increasing their discretionary budgets with asset forfeiture. With a lack of transparency and accountability in some states with the use of budget from civil asset forfeiture, this issue continues to be faced.

Moreover, in civil court proceedings, alleged criminals face asset seizures based on “preponderance of evidence”, a standard that proves there must be a greater than 50% chance of property connection. Without a right to an attorney, alleged criminals do not receive the same constitutional protection in a criminal trial.

In 2015, growing initiatives from the Drug Policy Alliance began in New Mexico, which passed a sweeping civil forfeiture reform. This reform removes authority over financial incentives for law enforcement to seize property and pursue forfeitures in cases where victims do not face arrest, charge, or are convicted of a crime. In 2017, California joined the growing list of states in the reform movement to protect alleged victims against wrongful asset seizures.

Federal Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney

Have police or seized your property using civil forfeiture? Do you need help getting it back? Contact Brian Silber, P.A. to set up a free initial consultation and work with an experienced civil asset forfeiture attorney. There are no attorney fees in cash seizure cases unless your funds are recovered.

Source: LPD’s new in-car system funded by drug enforcement efforts.pdf

 

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