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?’”
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.