James Eli Shiffer, the Star Tribune’s watchdog and data editor, digs into data and documents to uncover the news. Reach him at 612-673-4116, james.shiffer@startribune.com or follow him on Twitter at @jameselishiffer. Tell us what to investigate. Send your story tips to whistleblower@startribune.com.

On eve of reforms, police forfeitures still rising

Posted by: James Eli Shiffer Updated: June 4, 2014 - 11:39 AM
The State Patrol was tops in forfeitures in 2013/Star Tribune file

The Minnesota State Patrol was tops in forfeitures in 2013 (Star Tribune file photo by Richard Sennott)

On the eve of reforms to criminal forfeiture laws, Minnesota law enforcement agencies netted $6.9 million last year from property confiscated from drunken drivers, drug traffickers and other criminal suspects. A report on 2013 forfeitures from the Minnesota State Auditor showed a rise in both the number of forfeiture cases (6,955 in 2013, versus 6,851 in 2012) and the net proceeds (up from $6.7 million in 2012). 

The top agency using forfeiture last year was the Minnesota State Patrol, with 1,007 incidents that netted the agency more than $1 million, far ahead of the next busiest forfeiture user, the Minneapolis Police Department (311). That reflects the origin of most forfeitures: 91 percent last year stemmed from DWI and controlled substance cases. 

The State Patrol's forfeitures included 844 vehicles, 21 motorcycles, a motorhome, a trailer and 11 firearms. Four-hundred-twenty of the forfeitures earned nothing for the agency, because the property was returned to the owner, encumbered by liens or had no value.

The average value of all forfeitures in 2013 was $1,408, up from $1,263 in 2012.  The highest-dollar forfeiture was $68,740 in cash taken by the State Patrol. That doesn't include two recent cases I wrote about, the $200,020 seized from a suspected synthetic drug dealer, or the $138,131 airport forfeiture, because both are (or have become) federal cases.

I will be very interested to see whether next year's report shows a drop in forfeitures. A newer, tougher threshold for forfeiture kicks in Aug. 1 that requires a criminal conviction or admission of guilt.

Here's the report:

Forfeiture 13 Report

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