Money seized through busts are funding law enforcement programs across the state, but one state lawmaker says the system is being abused, forcing a bitter debate between him and county sheriffs throughout Oklahoma.
State Sen. Kyle Loveless is working on a bill to protect innocent people's property and account for every dime of money that is seized, but one sheriff says it'll do more harm than good.
Members of the High Noon Club, a group of citizens who meet with public officials, gathered with Canadian County Sheriff Randall Edwards to talk about a bill being pushed by Loveless. The bill will aim to reform civil asset forfeiture.
“Property is considered innocent until proven guilty,” Loveless said. “The government can’t take your stuff and then use it for its own purposes.”
However, that is how a lot of programs are funded including Internet Crimes Against Children which is a program that catches child sex predators.
“All of that was completely purchased by and funded by drug cartel money,” Edwards said.
Law enforcement agencies can take private property if they suspect it's being used in a crime, and it's up to the suspect to fight to get it back even if they are never charged or convicted. Agencies then keep the property or money.
“There have been instances where firearms were missing,” Loveless said. “We’ve had instances where an assistant DA was using a house for their own personal use.”
Law officials say those abuses are rare, and if they lose those funds, they couldn't afford all of their operation costs.
“The only person who is going to profit from this bill if these funds get taken away from local law enforcement will be the drug cartels,” Edwards said.
Loveless said he wants law enforcement to have all the necessary tools but innocent people's property should be left out of the equation.
“I believe law enforcement needs to have all the tools necessary to combat crime and the drug trade,” Loveless said. “But what I don’t think we need to have is something that innocent people’s property gets caught up in the mix.”
State Bill 838 was introduced in May. An interim study has been requested to take place in the fall and next February will begin its way through the committee.