Legislation targets money, property seized in drug crimes - WXOW News 19 La Crosse, WI – News, Weather and Sports |

Legislation targets money, property seized in drug crimes

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La Crosse, WI (WXOW) -

The La Crosse Police Department has conducted several recent drug raids that have resulted in thousands of dollars in cash and property being seized.

A post on the City of La Crosse Police Department Facebook page starts with, "MONEY, MONEY, MONEY." Several recent drug busts in the community have caused some in the public to question: Where does the seized money go?

"We think it's an interesting question that the public would want to hear about," said Captain Jason Melby with the La Crosse Police Department.

Although it could sit in evidence, state law gives law enforcement the ability to petition the court to obtain the seized funds without a conviction. Departments can also petition for valuable property that would be kept or sold.

"There is an administrative process where the court has to determine that the funds are the product of a crime associated with drugs or drug dealing," Melby said.

If the money is forfeited, it is split between the state's Common School Fund and a segregated fund for the La Crosse Police Department. If the amount is under $2,000, 70-percent of the money goes to the school fund with 30-percent staying in the segregated fund. If the amount exceeds $2,000, the money is split in half evenly among the two accounts.

Wisconsin's Common School Fund helps schools across the state buy library books and other instructional materials.

The money in the segregated fund for the La Crosse Police Department covers costs of ongoing local drug investigations.

"Drug investigations are pretty labor intensive. We use specialized surveillance equipment," Melby said. "We have specialized equipment for testing the drugs after they're seized. So, there are significant expenses."

While Melby says the system leaves room for oversight, some lawmakers say the current system leaves too much room for an abuse of power.

"When you have a segregated fund like that, it allows it to be audited and monitored as a matter of transparency," Melby said. "We think it's important for the public to know that."

"It has been a much more serious problem in other states, and we want to make sure that our law enforcement knows the rules of the road," said Senator David Craig, (R) WI-District 28. 

Craig joined six other senators to introduce the bipartisan Senate Bill 61. The bill does not allow property or money seized in drug crime to be released unless a person is convicted of a criminal offense related to the seizure.

"A process where the government can take your property away from you without you not only being charged with a crime, but not convicted of a crime--it is a severe, I think, abuse of the Constitution not only with the United States Constitution but the State of Wisconsin Constitution," Craig said.

Senate Bill 61 also requires 100-percent of forfeited funds to go into Wisconsin's Common School Fund.

"We should be reacting as government to crimes that have been committed appropriately, not out looking for funding streams," Craig said.

Melby says investigators do not make arrests based on the amount of money in their possession. 

While Craig says departments need to factor the costs of drug investigations into their budgets, Melby says that if Senate Bill 61 passes, taxpayers will likely end up with the cost.

The Wisconsin State Senate voted 22 to 10 in favor of the bill. All 18 Republicans voted yes while only 4 of 14 Democrats supported it. 

The legislation also passed through the Assembly, and now, it is on Governor Scott Walker's desk waiting for a signature.

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