By Shealyn Kilroy
In response to controversy over Philadelphia’s asset forfeiture policies, city officials are promising to change the way forfeited funds are spent in the future, a swap which could impact over two million dollars in local law enforcement budgets every year.
Philadelphia’s civil asset forfeiture program allows the Philadelphia Police Department and the District Attorney’s Office to seize property of citizens who have not been charged with a crime.
The Institute for Justice claims Philadelphia raked in over $72 million from civil forfeitures from 2004-2014, money which is allowed to be used to fund law enforcement salaries.
In an effort to settle a class-action lawsuit about the forfeiture program, city lawyers on July 21st proposed an order requiring future funds to go to community anti-crime programs instead of law enforcement budgets.
Using Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law, The Declaration obtained the Asset Forfeiture Report from fiscal year 2014-2015 from the state Office of Attorney General.
This report details how the proceeds from property forfeited during drug-related investigations are allocated within the OAG and in Pennsylvania counties, including Philadelphia.
According to this report, Philadelphia’s total income from cash proceeds of drug-related forfeitures, including interest, was $2,203,272 during the 2014-2015 fiscal year, adding to the city’s starting balance of $1,169,516.
The city spent the largest sum of that money, $1,479,047, on “Municipal Task Force Support.”
According to a DA spokesperson, funds under this line item are used to pay for salaries for police and for sworn detectives in the DA’s Office.
Coming in as second biggest expense, $515,878 went to the “Salaries” line item. The DA’s Office says these funds are spent on salaries for DA lawyers and paralegals working on drug cases.
Zero dollars were allocated to the Community Based Drug and Crime Fighting Program line item.
In full, Philadelphia spent $2,222,172 out of a total $12,478,034 spent by all counties, according to the 2014-2015 report.
Unlike Philadelphia, some counties allocated five digits and over to community programs.
Allegheny County reported spending $156,242 out of the county’s total available balance of $1,674,785 on community programs. The county spent less than $92,000 on Municipal Task Force Support and Salaries combined.
Franklin County spent $131,636 on community programs from its total balance of $377,393. The county reported spending $3,738 on Municipal Task Force Support and $0 on Salaries.
Other counties allocated money to community programs, while still making Municipal Task Force Support the largest ticket item in their reports.
Bucks County reported spending $20,281 of its balance on community programs, but officials also allocated $490,951 to Municipal Task Force support and $0 to Salaries.
Lancaster County reported spending $120,000 on programs and $777,160 on task force support of its total $2,700,670.
Back in Philadelphia in the current fiscal year, the exact use of forfeiture funds going forward is still being discussed, according to a spokesperson for Mayor Kenney.
One idea that has gained early favor is using forfeiture funds to support drug rehabilitative programming.
Regardless of how the funds will be newly spent, either Beth Grossman or Larry Krasner will play a role when one enters office early next year.
Republican DA candidate Grossman led the task force that dealt with civil asset forfeitures.
When it comes to a settlement on the class-action lawsuit, Grossman, in speaking with The Declaration, firmly stood by complying with whatever settlement agreement is set forth.
“Whatever settlement that comes to fruition, if it is approved by the court and entered into then that’s binding on the DA’s office of course. Under me or anybody the office will abide by the terms of that settlement agreement,” Grossman said.
In light of the recent heroin and opioid epidemic, Grossman says it is “certainly not a bad use of forfeiture asset money” to distribute it to drug treatment programs.
Democratic candidate Krasner could not be reached for comment. However, his website includes a promise to refrain from using civil forfeiture at all, regardless of the way the funds are spent.
According to the OAG, the report for finished fiscal years 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 have yet to be completed. If the proposed changes are approved, the 2017-2018 report for Philadelphia could be markedly different.
Disclosure: The Declaration’s co-editor Dustin Slaughter is currently on hiatus from our site to work for Larry Krasner’s campaign. Dustin played no role in this story.
The Krasner campaign website previously featured a photo taken in a personal capacity by The Declaration’s staff photographer Kristi Petrillo. Kristi is not a volunteer for or otherwise associated with the campaign and did not receive any compensation for the photo.