Every year, police and prosecutors in Minnesota make about $7 million selling seized items, mostly from drug dealers and drunk drivers, usually spending proceeds on training or equipment. However, sometimes, they get carried away.
In 2009, an investigation revealed Metro Gang Strike Force officers were taking home things like flat screen televisions, laptops, jet skis and jewelry. It led to reforms, like a ban on selling items to other officers or their families. Still, you break a law, and the police can take items involved in the crime.
"You can take the car and sell it, pay off the underlying note. You have cash. Same with any other real property," Minnesota ACLU executive director Chuck Samuelson said. He has been involved in reforms to the law.
"It used to be that they didn't have to prove you committed the crime before they started taking your stuff. You had to sue to get your stuff back," Samuelson said.
Last year, the law changed. Now it requires a conviction. There are also better reporting requirements. A Fox 9 review of the 5 years of reports between 2009 and 2013 shows that, on average, forfeited items were:
-46 percent vehicles
-38 percent cash
-14 percent firearms
-2 percent other items
The Minnesota State Patrol and Minnesota DNR are consistently in the top when it comes to who takes the most items, along with the Minneapolis and St. Paul police departments. The Dakota County and Southeast Minnesota drug task forces also take in a lot.
While agencies have to report what they took and what they did with it, they don't have to say how they spent the proceeds. The ACLU, and others, want that changed.
"I think the legislature is finally taking a look at this and saying we ought to clean this up. It's too loosy-goosy," Samuelson said.
In addition to the reporting bill, another forfeiture bill is making the rounds, which would give innocent owners who have their property confiscated because someone else (perhaps a spouse) was involved in a crime a chance to sue the state to get it back.