How Does OC Police Handle Drug Money?

OCEAN CITY – Police Chief Bernadette DiPino summarized this week how the police department spends the “bad guys” money as she explained forfeiture fund accounts.

“Basically, I have two accounts for the Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) that has money that were either seized from drug operations or were amounts of money that were abandoned or turned over to the police department by court order,” DiPino said.

According to DiPino’s report, OCPDs Asset Forfeiture Program is an initiative that helps to remove the tools of crime from criminal organizations, deprives wrongdoers of the proceeds of their crimes, recovers property that may be used to assist law enforcement and deters crime. The most important objective of the program is law enforcement. The majority of the seizures come as a result of drug investigations or through cooperation with federal law enforcement agencies, such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Currently, the police department holds about $168,000 in the federal forfeiture account and almost $87,000 in the state forfeiture account.

The report explained that when money is seized under state authority it is submitted and then deposited into an escrow account. The money remains in escrow until it is formally forfeited or returned to the original owner. When money is received from the federal government through equitable sharing, it is transferred directly into a separate federal seizure account. The transfer of funds out of the state and federal accounts is controlled by the city’s Finance and Budget offices. The police department does not access those accounts directly.

“What we use the money for are usually programs such as we just purchased Tasers, we have been able to purchase computers, and we have been able to purchase equipment, or software for our IT functions within the police department,” DiPino said.

The police department’s current obligations or items approved and purchased are all equipment and training for Stage One of a Taser Program and secondary authentication for access to NCIC criminal records through mobile computer terminals. Also, an item that has been approved to be purchased with forfeiture funds but have not yet been bought is a supplement to Stage One of the agency’s Taser Program to purchase three additional units.

The department also has a number of pending requests. Due to the recent retirement of a K-9 team, one of the items is to purchase one K-9 patrol dog and CDS detection in line with the acquisition of one dog purchased from the fiscal year 2012 operating budget. This purchase will include all training expenses and costs related to the equipping of a patrol vehicle, which will cost about $16,000.

DiPino stated that she strongly believes and recommends that all money and property seized by and forfeited to the agency be utilized for law enforcement purposes. Seized assets should be invested back into the police department to supplement its current budget for training and equipment designed to augment and enhance the performance of their duties, according to the chief.

DiPino said there are rules and procedures that have to be followed when it comes to seizing money.

“It usually has to go back into helping police officers investigate and apprehend criminals and usually with the drug trade,” she said.

According to the Maryland Criminal Procedure, “All rights in title to and interest in the money shall immediately vest in the municipal corporation in which the money was seized if the seizing authority was a law enforcement unit of a municipal corporation”.

According to the Department of Justice Guidelines for Equitable Sharing, the disposition of federal seizures submits that seized property, including money, received as a result of the OCPDs participation with a Federal Agency equitably shared funds shall be used by law enforcement agencies for law enforcement purposes only.

“It’s a great ability for our police department to purchase items that doesn’t come out of our budget and doesn’t come out of the taxpayer’s money, it actually comes out of the drug dealer’s pocket,” DiPino said.