Members of the Dallas City Council decided against using $250,000 from the city’s federal confiscated-assets fund to partially fund a $500,000 police staffing study last week, saying that doing so would be questionable because of the source of the funds.
Because of Texas’ lax civil asset forfeiture laws, law enforcement across the state can seize assets from Texans without ever charging them with a crime. In addition, local law enforcement entities receive a share of federal funds from busts they participate in with federal law enforcement agencies.
These funds then go through the forfeiture process, requiring the owner to prove the assets weren’t used in an illicit activity or are not proceeds of one. The legal battle can be costly for those who have to endure it, and many allow their assets to be forfeited.
Civil asset forfeiture funds in cities and counties are made up of funds from these cases of uncharged confiscations.
Fifteen months ago, the city of Dallas decided to study the need for additional law enforcement officers. The proposal popped up on the city council’s agenda last week with a cost of $500,000. One of the funding sources was the civil asset forfeiture fund and, while the item passed, that funding source was ultimately changed.
Philip Kingston, Dallas Council Member for District 14, led the opposition to the use of the funds.
“I am distressed, very distressed, that I cannot support this staffing study because one of the sources of funds for this staffing study is civil asset forfeiture funds. Money taken from people who have, in some cases not even been charged with a crime yet, but certainly not convicted of a crime and people who will ultimately be found not guilty,” said Kingston during the council meeting. “Their property is confiscated and is being used to fund this study and that’s immoral.”
Kingston closed by saying, “Stealing money from U.S. citizens to fund a staffing study fifteen months after we’ve declared it an emergency, if I had placed this item on the agenda, I’d be embarrassed.”
District 7 Council Member Kevin Felder questioned the Dallas Police Chief over the validity of Kingston’s claims and the specific amount of forfeiture funds being used. She couldn’t provide an exact answer at the time.
“These things concern me because typically it’s a poor person that has not been finally adjudicated that may lose their funds and that is a concern of mine as well,” said Felder. “So I would like to have that information before we vote on this… We need to be a just and fair council, we need to be a just and fair police department. I don’t think that we need to be doing something like this that is unconscionable.”
Council Member Sandy Greyson also opposed the measure saying, “I just think it is very unfair to do this. I’ve never cared for this process, this confiscated funds process unless and until someone is finally adjudicated and found guilty.”
A majority of members followed Kingston’s lead in opposing the use of forfeiture funds for the police staffing study, leading to Council Member Ricky Callahan offering the solution of using funds from the city reserve rather than asset forfeiture.
A growing opposition to civil asset forfeiture in Texas has led to legislative conversations about banning the practice altogether. Last session, numerous bills were filed in the legislature to ban the practice and, so far, one bill has been pre-filed for this session, by State Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston), to end civil asset forfeiture in Texas.