New forfeiture law maintains trust in law enforcement

The Minnesota State Auditor’s office has released an enlightening report regarding property seizures by law enforcement agencies in the state. The report gives transparency to an important part of the agencies’ actions, helping to maintain trust in the work of law enforcement personnel.

The report is the result of a 2010 law enacted after misconduct by the Metro Gang Strike Force was revealed. The Strike Force couldn’t account for all the property seized nor could it accurately account for its financial activity.

As the report reveals, 4,600 criminal forfeitures were made statewide (86 percent involving drunken driving or illegal drugs), The property was worth more than $5 million, so the numbers are large enough to make accurate accounting imperative.

Locally, the report is especially revealing. In 2010, the Morrison County Sheriff’s Department was involved in 11 incidents of criminal forfeiture worth a gross sales value of $10,967. After paying $6,166 in administrative expenses and liens against the property, law enforcement netted $4,666. Of that amount, the Sheriff’s Department received 70 percent, the prosecuting agency received 20 percent and 10 percent went to the state treasury. Most of the proceeds came from the sale of nine vehicles.

The Little Falls Police Department was involved in 11 incidents with a gross sales value of $3,198. That amount was also the net proceeds because no administrative costs or property liens were listed. The police took a couple of vehicles to a salvage yard and returned a vehicle to its owner. The remainder of the seizures were cash.

In a DUI case, the Royalton Police Department reported seizing a Ford F-150 pickup worth $8,000 and keeping it for its own use.

Neither the Pierz nor Randall police departments made any seizures.

The Central Minnesota Drug Task Force, a multi-agency organization which serves Morrison County, made 29 seizures of property worth $60,043. After paying $16,343 in administrative fees and liens, it netted $43,700 for state and local agencies. The agency sold nine firearms, two vehicles and several Honda sports bikes. It also agreed to return $13,303 cash to its owner and by court order returned an additional $1,250 to another owner.

While not guaranteeing accuracy, the new report shines a light on law enforcement that needs to be there.