Pubdate: Sat, 26 Apr 2003
Source: Augusta Chronicle, The (GA)
Copyright: 2003 The Augusta Chronicle
Note: Does not publishing letters from outside of the immediate Georgia and 
South Carolina circulation area
Author: Walter C. Jones, Morris News Service
Bookmark: (Asset Forfeiture)


ATLANTA - Little of the money state police officers seize from drug 
traffickers winds up helping them fight crime as a 1974 law intended, 
according to a government report that has lawmakers wondering whether 
changes are needed.

Instead, state law enforcement agencies let local police claim the money in 
hopes they will donate a share to the state.

Often, local departments donate cars, computers or money for equipment, but 
some state police officers told investigators they don't always get their 

In 2001, state judges ordered the forfeiture of more than $8 million worth 
of cash and property confiscated from 2,830 drug seizures, according to the 
Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts.

Until the department published its report in October 2002, no one knew how 
much was forfeited because there is no mechanism for the state to regularly 
collect the data.

Rep. Burke Day is among those worried something is out of balance, and the 
Tybee Island Republican sponsored legislation to sniff out the situation.

"I've been trying to figure out where does it go," he said.

His resolution to create a study committee of legislators stalled because 
House Speaker Terry Coleman says there are too many special study committees.

Still, he has the same questions Mr. Day has.

"It's worth looking into," said Mr. Coleman, D-Eastman.

Mr. Coleman was the chairman last year of the organization that requested 
the audit, the Budgetary Responsibility Oversight Committee. When the audit 
was released, it was in the middle of fall elections, when the committee 
members were likely more focused on politics than policy.

The members never met to discuss the findings. This year's committee 
chairman, Sen. George Hooks, D-Americus, wasn't familiar with the details 
of the audit but said he expected the panel to study it further after the 
state budget situation is resolved.

"It is an area that we need to look into to tighten the guidelines of how 
these funds are distributed," Mr. Hooks said.

Under Georgia's forfeiture law, only 25 percent of seized assets can go to 
the state. That share goes directly into the Georgia treasury rather than 
into the accounts of the statewide police agencies, which include the 
Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the Georgia State Patrol, the Department 
of Corrections and the Department of Natural Resources.

The auditors concluded there was no incentive for the state agencies to try 
to seize property under the state law, and that none had in the past five 
years. The Department of Public Safety, which oversees the GBI and the 
state patrol, is considering some change in its policy, said spokesman 
Gordy Wright.
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