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Criminal Forfeitures

State Capital Bureau

May 02, 1995

JEFFERSON CITY _ Education money would go to law enforcement as an incentive for policemen to do their jobs if a proposed state constitutional amendment passes this session.

However, its chances of passage are slim because the Senate Education Committee recommended not to pass the bill.

The bill would allow police in Missouri to collect half of the forfeitures when they "bust" someone. Now, law officials are required to turn over all of the forfeitures to education when they file in Missouri.

Supporters of the change argue that because of the state provision denying cops any profits from forfeitures, police end up filing most of the confiscations in the federal courts where federal law allows them to keep the forfeitures _ with nothing going to education.

"We think this will give more money to school kids," said Tim Jackson, lobbyist for the Missouri association of police chiefs. "It is a way to benefit education at same time we benefit law enforcement."

Other law enforcement officials argued the state constitution ought to allow police agencies to benefit from criminal forfeitures.

"The sheriffs will continue to do their job with or without passage, but I think it is reasonable to get a piece of the pie," said James Vermeersch, director of the Missouri Sheriff's Coalition.

However, Sen. Harold Caskey, D-Butler, questioned the need for additional funding in law enforcement offices.

"In my county, they use their money to buy things that are frivolous," Caskey said. "It surprises me you are ready to go on record as diverting money from education."

But the biggest surprise to legislators came when Rowena Conklin, lobbyist for Kansas City school districts, endorsed the bill.

"Fines and forfeitures have fallen off because they have been filed in federal court," Conklin said. "It is better to get 50 percent of something than nothing of nothing. We have to make the best of a bad situation."

Conklin also suggested that the money be distributed in the school districts where the forfeitures arose. But Sen. Joe Maxwell, D-Mexico, complained that would not distribute the money equally around the state.

"We would be happy to export our crime to you, too," Conklin replied to the rural, central Missouri senator.

Sen. Bill Clay, D-St. Louis, said he was worried about abuses he said have occurred in St. Louis.

"The law enforcement could end up planting illegal substances on automobiles because they like them," Clay said.

But Jackson said the criminals are the ones getting away with too much.

"The convicted are taking their Cadillacs and cash with them to prisons," Jackson said.