Local police departments fall behind on drug asset forfeiture payments

When local law enforcement makes a drug trafficking arrest, the court has the ability to seize property – including cars and money – thought to be a part of the illegal operation. Vehicles and other property are then sold at auction and the proceeds are split between several state agencies. The practice is known as civil asset forfeiture and it brings in millions to state agencies.

But some local police departments are slow to pay up.

An audit of the Division of Criminal Justice released Wednesday showed that 75 percent of all drug forfeiture funds owed to the division from 1994 to 2004 were outstanding for more than one year. Thirty-five percent were outstanding more than 10 years.

At the time of the audit the division reported $298,642 in outstanding forfeiture money but had only received about $74,000. The division told auditors it would make adjustments in its financing department to address the problem.

Bridgeport and Norwalk owed the most backlogged to the state.

Mark Dupuis, spokesman for Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane, said the agency has since collected most of the funds owed, although some remain outstanding. “The division continues to carry these older receivables because we are awaiting compliance from police departments,” he said. “The division has been actively working with police departments to resolve these issues.”

Asset forfeiture funds are divided between the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, the Division of Criminal Justice and the local police department that made the arrest.

Connecticut drug asset forfeiture law is similar to federal civil forfeiture law. Seizures of property related to drug trafficking are in rem, a legal term which means the court-ordered seizure is against the property rather than the person who owns the property.

Because of this legal provision a suspect does not have to be convicted of drug trafficking to have their assets seized. Instead, it only requires “clear and convincing evidence” that the property was used to traffic drugs or purchased with drug money.

Critics have labelled this practice “policing for profit” and Connecticut has received an average C+ rating from the Institute for Justice. In 2015, Connecticut collected more than $14 million in criminal and civil asset forfeiture. It also collected more than $27 million in actions pursued jointly with the federal government.

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