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House Speaker Advocates Bill to "Police the Police"

February 27, 2001

By: Ben Paynter
Links: HB444

State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - House Speaker Jim Kreider faulted law enforcement agencies Tuesday for failing to provide public schools with forfeiture funds, saying it may be necessary to police the police when it comes to criminal seizures.

Kreider, D-Nixa, said law enforcement agencies have seized millions intended for Missouri schools but spent it on themselves, creating the perception that police "serve and collect" instead of "serve and protect."

"There is a loophole in the current law to encourage seizure of money under the federal system, and to keep it for the department," Kreider said in an interview. "The constitution is very clear that the proceeds should go towards education."

Kreider said police often wait to seize money, drugs, or cars until federal agents arrive, a tactic that allows the local law enforcement agency to piggyback on a federal seizure.

Under his proposal, Kreider would mandate that the first at a crime scene seize criminal proceeds. With most crime scenes initially processed by local or state authorities, forfeiture money would be funneled to education.

"It would go to the schools that need it the most," said Rowena Conklin, a spokeswoman for the Missouri Board of Education, which supports the bill. Conklin said such legislation would provide at least $15 million for school construction over the next year.

The legislation would establish local jurisdiction over interstate criminal cases, especially those that occur in an airport, but would not hinder multi-jurisdictional task forces, Kreider said.

The recently elected speaker also noted that, in contrast to state law, federal law allows for seizures before a criminal conviction.

"There is a huge perception problem," Kreider said. "People think that they focus on citizens to gain money for their own purpose."

The measure has drawn little criticism, though some voiced concern during a Tuesday hearing on the proposal that law enforcement would suffer without direct monetary rewards.

However, Jorgen Schlemeier, a spokesman for the Missouri Sheriffs' Association, disagreed. Most police departments, he said, already lacked federal forfeiture incentives, with recent court cases stopping the flow of funds to other departments.

"Agencies won't lose any more money," Schlemeier said. "We know what role we have to follow. The bill will just clarify it in the statute."

Although the legislature did not approve a similar bill last year, Kreider said recent court decisions on federal seizure law have increased its likelihood of passage.