Pubdate: Wed, 08 Nov 2000
Source: Deseret News (UT)
Copyright: 2000 Deseret News Publishing Corp.
Author: Jennifer Dobner. Deseret News staff writer
Bookmark: For the Utah initiative items:


But Police Declare Vote Will Hamper Their War On Drugs

In a move supporters said will protect personal property rights,
voters passed Initiative B by an overwhelming majority -- a decision
Utah police departments say will handcuff them in the war on drugs.

Voters passed the initiative Tuesday to amend the state's laws on
handling assets seized by law enforcement by a margin of almost 30
percent, according to final but unofficial results. More than 414,000
Utahns, 69 percent, voted for it and 190,750, 32 percent, against.

"That's a huge number, I'm thrilled," said attorney Janet Jenson, lead
spokesperson for Utahns for Property Protection (UPP), the group that
put the initiative on the ballot. "I didn't think you could get 70
percent of people to agree on vanilla ice cream."

Still, she is not surprised.

"I thought the issue was pretty simple and I think people understand
that they deserve to have their property protected," said Jenson.

Under the new law, which takes effect March 31, 2001, forfeiture laws
will be rewritten to increase protections for third-party individuals
whose property is used in committing a crime and then seized by
police. All seized property will be turned over to the state
treasurer's office and property owners will get state-paid attorneys
to represent them in their fight to recover the property. Proceeds of
seized property sales will go into the Uniform School Fund.

UPP believes the initiative was needed because police were not
required to report seizure income. Increases in the number of seizure
cases and a state audit that showed some mishandling of property and
cash were signs that law enforcement could abuse the process, UPP said.

Tuesday's vote is a blow to police departments, which use forfeiture
funds to augment budgets, primarily to fight drug crimes. In response
to the initiative, police and prosecutors from across the state
organized the Coalition to Stop Drug Dealer Profits. But law
enforcement could only raise $14,000 for its campaign, compared to the
UPP's more than $550,000 in out-of-state money from international
financier George Soros.

The coalition will likely not take Tuesday's defeat lying down, Salt
Lake County District Attorney Dave Yocom said. The state stands to
lose millions of dollars to fight drug crimes, he said.

"Obviously we're going to re-think this and decide whether or not to
work to get (the initiative) repealed during the next legislative
session," he said. "We're more than willing to discuss legislative
changes; in fact, we supported a compromise proposal that last two

Jenson hopes lawmakers won't be intimidated.

"I hope the Legislature will understand that 70 percent of the people
wouldn't want that, " she said. "Voters are not stupid. They read the
ballot language and understood . . . . I think law enforcement doesn't
give the voters enough credit." 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake