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Law Enforcement officials siphon money away from Missouri's Schools

March 09, 1999
By: Melissa Miller
State Capital Bureau
Links: HB 339 & HJR 10

JEFFERSON CITY - Local law enforcement officials throughout Missouri are using the federal government to siphon money away from Missouri's students.

While a state constitutional amendment requires that all proceeds from criminal forfeitures -- usually money from drug busts -- go to education. In order to avoid that requirement, however, some police have been using a federal statute to keep the money for themselves.

Instead of sending the money through Missouri courts which would place it into education, law enforcement agencies send the money to a federal agency, like the Drug Enforcement Administration. The federal agency is not bound by the state constitution. It keeps a portion of the money for itself and returns the rest back to the local law enforcement agency.

"It hurts law enforcement's image, it's just a little shady," said Rep. Jim Kreider, D-Nixa, sponsor of a legislative compromise that would spilt forfeitures between schools and police.

Kreider claims the practice is depriving Missouri schools of millions of dollars each year.

Under his plan, half the money would go to a revolving school buildings fund to be spent on new buildings and maintenance of old ones. The other half would become law enforcement grants for educational programs like DARE.

"The grants would not go for new equipment, like more bullet proof vests," Kreider said.

Kreider describes the area where he lives near Springfield as a drug corridor."We have as many as 144 drug busts a week," he said. "We're talking about millions of dollars from these huge busts."

The compromise has been proposed in the House for the last few years and previously had the support of some education groups. Education support, however, has changed since he Kansas City school board filed a class-action lawsuit against all law enforcement agencies claiming the money entitled to them under the state constitution.

"With a possibility the schools could get all the money, people want to wait and see what happens in court," said Rep. Craig Hosmer, D-Springfield, another sponsor of the compromise plan.

A wait and see attitude is the approach the Missouri State Teachers Association, who represents 42,000 teachers, is taking.

"Historically, we have been supportive of the compromise, but we want to watch this case and see what happens," said Bruce Moe, spokesman for MSTA.

"Right now, we are not enthusiastically supporting any new legislation," Moe said. "We have a good law now and it needs to be followed."

While education waits to see what happens in Kansas City and legislators try to strike a compromise in Jefferson City, forfeitures are being collected across the state, even in Columbia.

Columbia Police say are following the state constitution with confiscations. Columbia police report they have three or four forfeiture cases a year. The money would got through a federal agency only if the forfeiture was part of a federal drug task force operation, said Capt. Randy Boehm.

Last year the Columbia Police Department collected $16,802 in forfeitures.

"Only $1,928 went through the state courts because some cases were not prosecuted or were plea bargained," said Capt. Eric Meyer. That $1,928 went to education under the state constitutional requirement.

Meyer supports the proposed 50-50 compromise.

"It's the best thing they can do; law enforcement the schools support it," he said.

No one actually know how much money Missouri collects in criminal forfeitures every year.

State Auditor Claire McCaskill has instituted a special review that will become a statewide audit, said Glenn Campbell, spokesman for McCaskill.

McCaskill has sent a survey to every law enforcement jurisdiction in the state.

"We've had good response to the over 300 surveys we've sent out," Campbell said. "The surveys will tell us how much money has gone federal and how much has gone state."

The audit is estimated to take several months to complete and is already underway in the Kansas City area.