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Brian Shane writing for the Gannett publication DelmarvaNow reports:

Police need cash to train investigators, to rent cars for undercover operations, and to pay off informants.

For the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office, they’re fighting the drug war by using criminals’ own money against them.

“Our whole operation is funded through asset forfeiture,” said Sgt. Nate Passwaters, who run the sheriff’s office Criminal Enforcement Team. “When we seize money, we seize vehicles, that money supports our operation. We don’t rely on equipment, monies, out of county taxpayer dollars. We’re using the bad guys money to fund our operations.”

Asset forfeiture has yielded nearly $300,000 for the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office in the last two fiscal years. They use the money for equipment, training and operational expenses.

Recent purchases include two ATVs and a trailer that are now being used to scour wooded areas for drug farming operations, according to Col. Doug Dods, who oversees the sheriff’s office asset forfeiture program.

“The beauty of all this stuff is, this isn’t costing the taxpayers a dime,” he said. “If we had to run this on our operational budget, from the county, we wouldn’t be able to do it. Can you just see us going before the commissioners, saying ‘Hey, we need money to buy drugs?’”

In other words, the Worcester County County Commission and citizens have little to no desire to pay for drug law enforcement out of their public budget. Moreover, I am curious as to the legality of the Worcester Sheriff’s retention of forfeiture funds, as Maryland law requires law enforcement agencies that receive forfeiture money to deposit it in the state or local general fund. The Institute for Justice, in their “Policing for Profit” report, gave Maryland’s forfeiture law a C+, noting:
Procedurally, Maryland does not afford strong protections to property owners swept up in civil forfeiture, but it does eliminate the profit incentive.  Property can be forfeited under a preponderance of the evidence standard; the government must merely prove it is more likely than not that the property was involved in a crime, a far lower standard than beyond a reasonable doubt.  Property owners are effectively “guilty until proven innocent”:  To contest a seizure, the property owner must prove that the property was wrongfully seized or that the owner did not have actual knowledge of the conduct.  But Maryland civil forfeiture law, unlike most other states, avoids creating a profit incentive for local law enforcement.  All proceeds from civil forfeiture flow to the state general fund or the local governing body.
While it appears that the Worcester Sheriff Office obtains most of their forfeiture revenue from state forfeitures, they do receive sharing of forfeiture proceeds through the federal Equitable Sharing program amounting to $20,000 in both 2010 and 2011. If it is indeed the case that the Worchester Sheriff’s Office is illegally retaining the proceeds of state forfeitures and the county administration forces compliance with state law, one would expect to see the Worcester Sheriff moving more forfeitures to federal agencies to dodge the law and retain this funding mechanism.

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3 Responses to “Maryland Sheriff: “We wouldn’t be able to do” drug enforcement without asset forfeiture”

  1. Without forfeiture, you’d have to give up witch-hunting? Boo hoo, how awful!

  2. Jayne Knous says:

    As a property owner, registered voter, tax payer, citizen of this country I am sick to death of the so called drug war. It never should have been to start with, after the repeal of prohibition the war on drugs was declared based on bigotry & greed. I wish someone could post the headlines from 1937 declaring that . The headlines are quite shocking.

  3. [...] Maryland Sheriff: “We wouldn’t be able to do” drug enforcement without asset forfe… [...]

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