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While the D.C. government scrounges for every penny, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) has failed to collect more than $1 million from its Drug Asset Forfeiture program during the past two fiscal years, concludes D.C. Auditor Russell Smith in a new report.
“We have not done a good job of converting seized assets to government assets,” says Smith.
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Under the popular forfeiture program, the District and federal governments can take cash, cars, jewelry, real property, and other assets that were obtained with proceeds from illegal drug activity. According to the audit, the city seized about $2.8 million in assets between October 1991 and October 1994. (The District also received $3.2 million from federal seizures in D.C.) MPD’s Property Control Unit administers assets taken by the city, which can be sold or used by police officers. Between 1991 and 1994, the District spent about $1.2 million from the forfeiture program on drug education and prevention.
The audit chronicles a program riddled with “major operational deficiencies.” The Property Control Unit, which is short-staffed, has accumulated a backlog of more than 500 cases, representing more than $1 million worth of uncollected drug assets. In addition, Smith notes that the warehouse where seized assets are held lacks adequate security; MPD’s Office of Grants misspent $80,000 of forfeited money on administrative expenses; and the city is still paying the Office of the Corporation Counsel for work that is now performed by the Property Control Unit. Smith’s office could not even trace several automobiles that had been seized by MPD.
But these are hardly new criticisms of the forfeiture program. The auditor’s office conducted a similar audit about five years ago, and lots of the shortcomings pointed out then have still not been resolved. “Many of the same problems that existed in this program over the past seven years still exist today—a backlog of cases not filed, money not deposited, and a failure to allocate expenses to revenue are some of the more glaring deficiencies,” the new audit says.
Smith says he hopes this audit will finally help cure the program’s long-standing ills. “[MPD’s] response to our audit has been favorable, and I hope they will follow the recommendations,” he says.
In a letter attached to the report, interim MPD Chief Larry Soulsby agrees that the audit’s findings are correct and says that its nine recommendations will be adopted as guidelines to improve the forfeiture program. Soulsby did not respond to several phone calls requesting comment.