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The Sacramento, California police department has submitted a proposal to spend $1.2 million in asset forfeiture revenues to the Sacramento City Council. Notably, about $650,000 of the balance in the SPD forfeiture fund comes from asset forfeiture proceeds shared by the Department of the Treasury and the Department of Justice through the federal “Equitable Sharing” program:

The SPD proposes to use $896,865, of the $1,262,699, to replace and repair the Police Department’s fleet of aircraft, procure safety equipment to support front-line law enforcement (i.e., weapons and ammunition), procure equipment and software used to support front-line law enforcement (i.e., in car computers/cameras and electronic citation equipment), and procure equipment for specialized law enforcement units (i.e., Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Team). The balance of $365,835 is proposed to fund anti-drug and gang programs as required by State of California Health and Safety Code Section 11489. (Sacramento Police Department, Fiscal Year (FY) 2013/14 Asset Seizure Expenditure Master Plan, 30 Aug. 2013)

The lack of details in SPD’s spending proposal has lead Sacramento City Councilman Jay Schenirer to press for more information:

“That’s more than we have in the city general fund to spend on those programs, so it’d be good to know what we’re spending it on, which programs, the effectiveness of those programs and how we’re measuring if they’re working or not,” he said.

It’s the kind of question that doesn’t get asked enough around these parts. (Why, the previous week, this very same council said nada regarding the $7.5 million loan it forgave the Crocker Art Museum. And that’s way more than 900 grand.)

Back to the forfeiture account, state law [specifically Health & Safety Code 11489 (i) and (ii)] says 15 percent of these monies have to be spent on drug- and gang-diversion, with a priority given to programs with a successful track record. It also says such efforts “shall wherever possible involve educators, parents, community-based organizations and local businesses, and uniformed law enforcement officers.”

The law’s intent is that police agencies don’t just keep circulating the funds internally, but actually put it into the community to, you know, help and stuff.

No one is saying the police department is trying to do the latter, but, as our old math teacher always commanded, show your work.

Aside from a detailed breakdown of how the money would be spent, Schenirer also wanted to know what had been purchased in the past and have a broader conversation about how the council’s priorities may have shifted since it last codified its public safety goals 23 years ago.

“Some things have not changed, but many have since 1990,” he added. (Raheem Hosseini, Jay Schenirer proves elected officials can actually ask where the money is going, Sacramento News & Review, 31 Aug. 2013)

It’s rare that an elected official exercises meaningful oversight over law enforcement use of asset forfeiture revenues; since these aren’t appropriated funds, elected officials are rarely held accountable for their use and have little incentive to challenge the spending priorities of politically connected and powerful law enforcement agencies.

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