Pubdate: Thu, 21 Mar 2002
Source: Times Daily (AL)
Contact:  2002 Times Daily
Bookmark: (Asset Forfeiture)


THE ISSUE Police consider seizing property where drug complaints investigated.

WE SUGGEST Officials need to be careful not to infringe upon personal 
rights while attempting to protect the public.

With illegal drug use and abuse showing no signs of slowing down, law 
enforcement officers are trying new ways to keep up. However, in an attempt 
to catch the criminals, officials need to be careful not to run over 
people's rights.

On March 7, Sheffield police reportedly found about an ounce of cocaine - 
in both powder and rock, or crack, form - in an apartment in the 500 block 
of Ninth Street. About two months earlier, a warrant was served in a 
different apartment at the same complex.

"It's continuing to be a problem, " Sheffield Police Chief Doug Aycock said 
in an understatement.

The owner of the complex was previously warned to clean up his tenants' 
acts, according to police. Since that didn't have the desired effect, 
officials were considering using a state law to seize the property.

While that could prove to be a short-term solution to the problem at that 
apartment complex, it's doubtful that would do much to stem the flow of 
drugs into the community.

This was just the latest attempt by the city in the war on drugs. Sheffield 
police have already used a drug nuisance abatement law to pressure property 
owners to avoid renting to drug dealers.

That may seem somewhat comical on the surface - after all, what are 
landlords supposed to do, include a line on their application form asking 
whether the potential tenant "uses, sells and/or condones the use and sale 
of illegally made and/or obtained pharmaceuticals?" Still, one family was 
forced to move because of multiple drug problems at their house, although 
one can't help but wonder whether the problems just moved with them.

Aycock said there are two or three buildings where police may apply the 
seizure law, but several things should be reconsidered before any action is 

The most important question is: Have any of the landlords actually been 
charged with a crime? Failing to notify law enforcement of known criminal 
activity is against the law, but if that can't be proved, how could the 
courts justify taking someone's property away from them?

The seizure law is one of many across the country that tiptoes down a 
slippery and steep constitutional slope. We would hate for our rights to be 
trampled in haste to win a war that will likely be fought forever.

At the same time, if people continue to look the other way when they know 
something illegal is occurring, they shouldn't be surprised if the next 
person they see in the back seat of a squad car is themselves.

We all have to work together against a scourge like crack, which hurts the 
users, their families and all of society.
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