Newton City Manager Bob Myers is speaking out about upcoming state efforts to change laws pertaining to revenue from drug offender asset seizures and forfeitures.
Myers brought the issue up this week with city leadership because Newton Police Chief Eric Murphy and Deputy Chief Craig Dunlavy had presented on Newton PD's new rifle-rated protective gear (vests and ballistic shields) earlier in the meeting.
In explaining that the equipment had not required an investment from city taxpayers, Murphy said the equipment was purchased with donated money, as well as with money from the drug offender asset seizure and forfeiture fund, which can be used to buy protective gear for officers in the field.
There has been some recent legislative activity and criticism of the legislation pertaining to asset seizures, Myers said, as well as some assertions that it is not fair or working with due process.
In his opinion, Myers said the legislation has weaknesses and could have been better drafted, for the sake of clarity.
The legislature recently decided to transfer legislative requests regarding potential redrafting of asset seizure to the Kansas Judicial Council. Myers said the council is going to study the issue during the interim period and bring back proposals during the next legislative session.
Being on the REAP Legislative Committee and having worked with the Kansas League of Municipalities and their legislative efforts, Myers said the legislation regarding asset seizure and forfeiture needs to be given attention, as law enforcement has been able to (in some ways) rely on seizures as a source of revenue.
At the same time, if there are those who think they are innocent and feel they are being victimized by the law, Myers said that also needs to be addressed when looking at the legislation.
Myers said he has been asked to give a presentation about the asset seizure legislation in Wichita next week, which will mostly be attended by city and county managers.
There are some weaknesses with the law, Myers said, and the Judicial Council will attempt to refine or improve the legislation.
Myers added that weaknesses with asset seizure could be fixed, so that the law is still fair, but also continues to produce crucial funds for investigating drug offenses and properly protecting officers.
The Kansas House Judiciary Committee members will wait for input from the the Kansas Judicial Council before making any new policy regarding the law that allows police officers to seize and forfeit citizens’ property.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Blaine Finch referred five bills for review to the Kansas Judicial Council, which is an advisory committee made up by the judiciary committees’ chairs and chief justice appointees.
Finch said he expected the group to make recommendations and “possibly draft legislation,” but he said it will likely not have a proposal this year.
Critics of asset forfeiture say the practice violates property and due process rights by allowing officers to seize property from potentially innocent citizens, often keeping the proceeds.
Officers claim it helps them to stop profitable crime, such as drug trafficking.
– The Associated Press contributed to this article