Friday, April 09, 1999

Cops to share drug-bust proceeds

Policy change to aid community groups

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Based on an Enquirer investigation into how Ohio police agencies use money seized during drug arrests, Cincinnati police agree they should be spend ing more on anti-drug education and rehabilitation.

        The spending could amount to $155,000 a year.

        The Enquirer reported in September that the city has been misinterpreting state law regarding spending since 1992.

        In a recent memo, the city safety director agreed. Plans are in the works to distribute the money to community groups.

        Lt. Col. Rick Janke said the Cincinnati Police Division has compiled a list of eight to 10 community groups that are eligible for the funds. Their names and planned donations are scheduled to be released this month, he said.

        Col. Janke would not provide a dollar estimate for planned donations. Based on the department's seizures since 1993, which average about $825,000 annually in state cases, the de partment would donate $155,000. Seizures were down in 1998, however — and if the trend continues in 1999, that figure could be lower.

        Proceeds of drug arrests come to the police department when police find cash and valuables during a drug arrest. The valuables, often cars, can be sold. The cash is used to fight drug crime.

        Except for salaries, Cincinnati pays for its entire 17-officer undercover street corner unit with the drug money.

        Ohio law gives departments broad spending discretion with a lone requirement: It says anti-drug education programs such as Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) must receive 10 percent of the first $100,000 an agency receives, and 20 percent of any amount over that.

        An Enquirer investigation found that Cincinnati police had donated just $1,000 a year in 1995, 1996 and 1997 to such causes. City council members asked the city administration to look into the findings.

        Safety Director Kent Ryan issued a report, dated Jan. 13, that said the police department had a 1992 opinion from the city law department saying that “very little, if any, such forfeited assets” would be subject to the 10 percent/20 percent distribution requirements.

        However, Mr. Ryan's report said, “the interpretation and understanding of the law has changed.”

        Deputy City Solicitor Robert Johnstone said the city was collecting very little drug forfeiture money under state statute in 1992. By 1998, that had changed.

        Also, the law department interpreted the law differently, he said: “I'm not sure whether (the law) had changed in the interim or whether we just did a better job.”

        The department is also tracking the money more carefully, the report and Col. Janke said.

        “We do have fiscal tracking measures in place to know exactly how much to disburse to the community, and that wasn't the case before,” he said.

        Mr. Ryan's report also listed $125,765 spent with community groups from the drug funds during the past three years. One is directly related to drug education — $3,000 for the Free-to-be-Me Project, a substance abuse prevention program for youths sponsored by the Memorial Community Center.

        Ohio Senate President Richard Finan said in an interview, before Mr. Ryan's report was published, that he would like to see drug forfeiture money used to support drug court, a rehabilitation program that some Hamilton County leaders think needs expansion.

        “The one thing we ought to look at is we need more drug rehabilitation in prisons and local jails,” Mr. Finan said. “When we talk education, we tend to think about kids.”

        City Councilman Charles Winburn said the seized money should be sent back to Cincinnati neighborhoods where the arrests were made. He would change the formula to give 75 percent to the neighborhoods and 25 percent to the police.

        “Every community council, when a drug bust is made in their neighborhood, would get a windfall of drug asset forfeiture money,” Mr. Winburn said Thursday. “This would be a neighborhood anti-drug incentive program.”

        He suggested the money be spent in cooperation with the police department. The idea would require a change in state and federal law, which Mr. Winburn said he is willing to support.


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