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Money talks: Seized cash beefs up Jefferson police force

POSTED: November 1, 2008 5:00 a.m.
SARA GUEVARA /The Times

This WatchGuard camera system is just one of the items that the Jefferson Police Department was able to purchase this year with seized funds.

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JEFFERSON — Crime may not pay, but it has definitely benefited the Jefferson Police Department.

In the past eight months, the department has collected more than $200,000 in seized funds and has used the additional income to beef up the department’s offerings.

Back in February, the Jefferson Police Department joined other law enforcement agencies in collecting seized funds and using the money to obtain additional equipment and training that isn’t covered by the department’s general budget.

"We have to use the money in connection with initiatives that combat drugs, for drug prevention programs or other items that haven’t necessarily been budgeted for," said Joe Wirthman, Jefferson police chief.

When the police department confiscates funds, the money is taken to a bank where it is picked up by the U.S. Marshals. The marshals service conducts an investigation to determine if the funds are "drug money" or have been involved in other illegal activities. If the U.S. Marshals determine that the money had been used illegally, the owner’s rights are forfeited and the Jefferson Police Department gets to keep the funds, minus 20 percent that the marshal service keeps as a fee for its investigation.

If the funds have not been used for illegal means, the owner has the right to claim the money.

So far, some of the seized funds have been used to purchase top-of-the-line equipment for several patrol vehicles and narcotics training for officers.

To sniff out drugs being smuggled into and through Jefferson, the department used about $30,000 to pay for two fully trained drug dogs.

Recently, the K-9 units helped the Jefferson Police Department locate nearly $400,000 that out-of-state suspects had hidden in the door panels of their vehicle.

"These dogs have paid for themselves 10 times over," said Lt. Steve Bannister of the Jefferson Police Department.

While the K-9 units traditionally are used to search for drugs and track people, the dogs also can assist with traditional emergency calls, arrests and routine traffic stops.

"We’re part of a criminal patrol," said Johnny Wood, one of the Jefferson K-9 unit officers. "Last month I made 13 arrests. Some were for misdemeanor drug possession, and some were for transporting stolen merchandise."

For the most part, the seized funds have been found in connection with drug busts, which can occur during a routine traffic stop or as a part of a larger investigation.

"Our two-man team won’t solve the country’s drug problem, but if we can keep the drugs out of Jefferson, then that is a good thing," Wirthman said.



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