We’ve all seen the pictures; one bust after the other. Drugs like meth and marijuana all piled up and seized by the Texas Department of Public Safety.
After a court order, all of these drugs get incinerated and disposed of forever, but there are other things found in these busts that don’t go to waste.
“We’re collecting stolen vehicles, cash, credit cards,” said Trooper Chris Ray with DPS.
Just last year, DPS seized more than $33,000,000 in drugs and money during 219 traffic stops in the panhandle. $1,500,000 of that was in pure cash. There were also numerous weapons and vehicles were confiscated. But when all of this property and money comes in, what happens to it?
DPS says it’s put to good use.
“We’ve purchased some ballistic vests so that our guys are safer on the road,” said Ray. “Then, we’ve purchased in car cameras and you see those in court.”
Vehicles, body armor, vehicle cameras and even artillery can be bought by Texas law enforcement off of these collections. It’s utilized by not just DPS, but local Amarillo agencies as well.
Some of the most recent purchases include a mobile command center bought by potter county just last year.
“It’s an office on wheels,” said Potter County Sheriff Brian Thomas. “I’ve been out on several instances since I’ve been here where we were trying to work off a steering wheel in a car and it just doesn’t work very well.”
The same type of purchase has come in for Amarillo Police.
“It’s a $700,000 vehicle that we would not have had access to had it not been those seized funds,” said Sgt. Brent Barbee with Amarillo Police. “It’s a very valuable vehicle. It allows command staff and representatives from other agencies to all sit at the same table.”
Also, a bearcat armored vehicle is on the way Randall county.
The big question that lingers though is ‘how can these agencies just take property and buy their own? It’s called asset forfeiture. And there are laws in place that govern the practice.
“It’s to deprive the criminal of the profit of the crime,” said Randall County District Attorney James Farren.
The case and your confiscated assets go to a courtroom for a civil case. If the state proves the property was used in a crime, it’s handed over. It’s then repurposed in certain cases or disposed of because of debt that may be attached. It can also go to auction and money can sometimes supplement officer or prosecutor salaries.
Randall county district attorney James Farren deals with forfeit asset cases all of the time and he says the laws are in place for good.
“If the burglar loses property as a result of participating in a burglary, it discourages burglaries,” said Farren. “Asset forfeiture laws have developed over the last few decades and that’s the idea.”
While farren calls the practice beneficial, the idea to the public can sometimes be that law enforcement “Polices for Profit” or taking advantage of the forfeited assets for personal gain. But local agencies say that’s not the case.<
“When you take into account the number of hours and expenditure for equipment, said Barbee. “I’m not sure there’s a lot of profit in every case.”
“We’re very careful to make sure the people we go after are people we have plenty of evidence that they were involved in criminal activity,” Farren said. “And we have plenty of evidence that what we’re taking back from them is either profit gained in the criminal activity or things that belong to them that they use to facilitate participating in that criminal activity.”
Over the past year, DPS says it found its most seized assets off of I-40, one of the busiest roadways in the panhandle. Ray said while he hopes enforcement cuts down on crime, he also wants to make sure people know the reasoning behind it.
”We don’t just seize it. We actually do a pretty good background and a pretty good check on it to see if it will benefit the state of Texas,” said Ray.