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Kansas City Police Department Has Kept Drug Seizure Money Owed to School Districts


December 1996

Despite a state constitutional provision and a 1990 Missouri Supreme Court ruling, the Kansas City Police Department has kept millions of dollars from drug seizures that should have gone to local schools (Karen Dillon and Bob Lynn, "KC police have kept money due schools," Kansas City Star, October 19, 1996, p. A1).

For years, Kansas City law enforcement officials opposed a provision in the Missouri state Constitution that requires fines and forfeited money and property to be used to support schools. In 1986, after intense lobbying from law enforcement agencies, the General Assembly passed the Criminal Asset Forfeiture Act, which allowed law enforcement agencies to keep forfeiture assets.

In 1989, when Odessa, Missouri school officials in Lafayette County learned that law enforcement agencies had seized more than $1 million in several drug cases, they sued the county for the funds they were entitled to. The Missouri Supreme Court ruled in favor of Odessa school district in 1990 and ordered Lafayette County officials to return the money. State Senator Wayne Goode from St. Louis County helped pass legislation after the 1990 ruling that ensured that proceeds from drug and property seizures went to the school districts. "The Constitution prevents a bounty-hunting approach to law enforcement," said Goode, "People had foresight not to have police out there enforcing the law to benefit themselves."

A week after the Missouri Supreme Court ruling, then U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri Paul Bradshaw II wrote law enforcement agencies, encouraging them to file forfeitures with the U.S. Justice Department. "As most of you know, the money we share through our forfeiture program goes 'directly' to the state or local law enforcement agency," Bradshaw wrote. However, the Kansas City Police Department was already aware that federal seizure laws allow local and state police to keep 85% of the money from forfeitures with the remainder going to the federal government. During the months just before the Missouri Supreme Court ruling, the Kansas City Police Department spent more than half of its state seizure account while its federal seizure account was increasing.

Albert Riederer, then Jackson County prosecutor, drafted a proposal and began negotiations with area school districts on behalf of his office, the Jackson County Sheriff's Department and the Jackson County Drug Task Force. Kansas City is in Jackson County. Riederer's proposal offered the school districts 30% of forfeited money with the implied threat that if the schools did not agree the police departments would file all of their drug seizures through the U.S. Justice Department and the schools would receive nothing. Riederer needed all school districts to accept the proposal before it could be enforced. Faced with the need for additional revenue, most school districts accepted the plan, but the Kansas City district balked. In February 1992, school board president Julia Hill wrote Riederer, calling the agreement "extortionate activity." But, despite the lack of an agreement, records show that police began filing cases reflecting the 70-30 split. In September 1992, Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Preston Dean intervened, ordering the seizure money to be given to the school districts.

Then police and prosecutors began claiming routine law enforcement costs as work done on seizure cases, including case preparation, officers' time testifying, and litigation costs. Jackson County Judge H. Michael Coburn rejected those practices in June 1993. The prosecutor's office appealed, but the Missouri Court of Appeals upheld Coburn's decision in 1994.

However, the Kansas City Police Department did not give up. It increasingly used a "retention account," which it had established shortly after the 1990 Supreme Court ruling. The account contained "money seized in drug cases" that did not meet federal guidelines or in which "the department is unable to file a state case." In 1991, the account had $2,745 and now holds more than $800,000. Spurred by questions about why this money has not be turned over to the schools, police officials agreed in October 1996 to let the county auditor examine their accounts to determine how much money is owed. [If this were not a drug case, the headlines would be "Prosecutor Sits Still While Police Steal From Schools." -- EES]