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Archive for Wednesday, September 20, 2000

Legislative panel wants changes in forfeiture law

Abuses seen in current structure

September 20, 2000

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— Kansas' forfeiture law should be changed because of problems in the way law enforcement agencies handle drug money, the Legislative Post-Audit Committee recommends.

The state audit prompted by a series of media reports discovered problems in the procedure, and also found that other states provide more protection than Kansas does for people whose property is seized by authorities.

Some states require a criminal conviction before property can be forfeited, but in Kansas it can be done without a criminal charge having ever been filed.

The committee's recommendations Monday focus only on better reporting and handling of money by law enforcement agencies, but other legislators are discussing ways to further tighten the Kansas law.

Rep. Ralph Tanner, R-Baldwin, plans to file a bill to redirect forfeited money to education. In Kansas, police agencies are able to keep a large part of the money, but Tanner and officials in many other states see that as a conflict of interest.

Tanner said Monday he's also concerned that property can be taken without a conviction.

"I don't care how much wrong a perpetrator is supposed to have done," Tanner said. "That isn't a conclusive wrong until some court says it is.

"The perpetrator is still entitled to his day in court."

Among the committee's recommended changes to the forfeiture law:

Each agency must deposit seized money in a special law enforcement trust fund in the city or county treasury. Some agencies were commingling the state money with federal money, even though state and federal laws have different rules on how the money can be spent.

Each agency must file an annual detailed report with its governing body. The audit found that of 103 law enforcement agencies, only eight filed the required report.

Anytime a forfeiture exceeds 25 percent of an agency's budget, its governing agency may reallocate the money for such programs as drug abuse treatment, drug and crime prevention, housing or other community-based programs.

The committee's recommendations will be introduced in the legislative session that starts in January.

The audit selected six law enforcement agencies that received forfeited money. Auditors found that five of them had problems with the way they handled drug money.

One agency disposed of drug money before a judge declared it legally confiscated. Another improperly deposited state and federal money into a local bank account instead of its law enforcement trust fund, as the law requires.

The audit also found that Kansas forfeiture law is vague on how law enforcement agencies can spend the forfeited money.

It warned that law enforcement may be able to spend the money in ways the Legislature never intended.

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