Gardner’s Law Enforcement Trust Fund has grown from $8,187 in 2014 to $16,872 in 2015.
“The increase came from a single cash seizure made during a narcotics search warrant on Jan. 2, 2015,” said James Pruetting, police chief.
The trust fund is used to document deposits and expenditures for properties forfeited to the Gardner Police Department as required by state statute. Expenditures may be made only for authorized purposes and are not to be used for normal operating expenses.
Since the first of the year, Pruetting said Gardner has served 11 search warrants related to narcotics, a detective has been added and a K9 unit.
“We are ramping up,” he said. The increased enforcement is not because Gardner’s drug problem is worse than other areas, but rather because drug laws may have been under-enforced in the past.
Narcotics are often the nexus for other crimes such as robbery, theft or violence. “A basic tenant of what you do is stay up on narcotics activities,” Pruetting said.
As required by statute, notice of seizure is issued to individuals and documentation on the seizure is part of the case file.
“The seizure process is a civil procedure, so individuals are served with the notification paperwork,” Pruetting said. “We have done the service ourselves in all of the seizure cases we’ve handled.”
Kansas statute has recently come under scrutiny because it does not require a conviction to keep seized property. In 2016 the legislature considered amending the way law agencies take possession of personal property, but it was not passed. Because of legislative inaction, the auditing arm of the Legislature examined practices of some law enforcement agencies including the Kansas Highway Patrol and Kansas Bureau of Investigation.
Gardner does not have a policy to return seized property if there is no conviction. “There is no policy regarding return of seized property if there is no conviction, as a conviction is not a requirement of the Kansas seizure/forfeiture statute,” Pruetting said.
However, Gardner has yet to face such an occurrence, he said, due both to under enforcement of narcotics laws in the past and also because people were often reluctant to claim cash sums because it could be tied to criminal activity and because of IRS reporting requirements.
In addition, Pruetting said, “If we did not have a strong case, we would not go thru the process.”
There is a chain of custody regarding any forfeited properties or cash. “The property is handled like any other recovered property,” Pruetting said. “It is secured in our property room until disposition.”
Gardner does have the option of securing larger sums of cash or valuable property in the county’s property room, if needed.