Law enforcement in Shawnee County, Kan., has been on quite the shopping spree. This money came from both criminal forfeiture (which requires a conviction) and civil forfeiture, which does not require owners to be convicted, let alone charged with a crime.
Using money gained from asset forfeiture, the district attorney’s office has spent almost $12,000 on meals since 2009, including $967 on pizza and over a grand for barbecue catering. Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor spent $34,000 in these funds to remodel his office, including buying a $1,400 executive desk. Taylor also donated $1,000 to a nonprofit run by his wife and denied that was a conflict of interest.
Meanwhile, the Shawnee County Sheriff’s Office used forfeiture funds to buy $26,000 worth of gym equipment and 99 Tasers for $146,000. The sheriff’s office was even able to build a $1.5 million, 10-acre training complex complete with a shooting range and driving course almost entirely through forfeiture. Yet in 2007, then-Kansas Attorney General Paul Morrison ruled that forfeiture “proceeds cannot be used to fund capital improvements costs to a county building.”
Since 2009, the Shawnee County D.A. spent more than $622,000 in forfeiture money. Likewise, the two sheriffs who served in Shawnee County have spent over $3 million in federal and state forfeiture funds since 2008.
For prosecuting civil forfeiture cases, after they auction forfeited property, district attorneys can score between 15 to 20 percent. Police can keep 100 percent of the rest.
Compared to other counties in Kansas, Shawnee County is a moneymaker. The D.A.’s Office in Shawnee County obtained over $200,000 in forfeiture revenue in 2013. By comparison, Sedgwick County, the second largest county in the Jayhawk State, collected almost $46,000, even though Sedgwick has almost three times as many people as Shawnee. According to the Topeka Capital-Journal, “Taylor attributed the difference to the fact that Interstate 70 runs through Shawnee County and the dedicated work of the Shawnee County Sheriff’s Office.”
Thanks to civil forfeiture, highways can be incredibly lucrative for law enforcement. Cops have routinely used traffic stops to seize millions from drivers who are never charged with a crime. These shakedowns are particularly infamous in Tennessee (as seen in the video below) and Texas.
According to IJ’s report, “Policing for Profit,” under civil forfeiture in Kansas, property owners actually have fewer rights than accused criminals. Owners aren’t presumed innocent until proven guilty. Instead, they have to prove their innocence in court.
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— Nick Sibilla
Nick Sibilla is a writer at the Institute for Justice