Ambush-style assaults concentrating on police greater than double over the previous yr

FORT MYERS, Florida – The National Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) reports that ambush attacks on officers have increased 103% year over year (2020).

The latest report from the FOP says there have been 75 ambush attacks on officials in the past year.

Of these attacks, 93 officers were shot dead and 21 killed.

The FOP says that an ambush style attack is defined as any time an officer is shot without warning or defense.

Fox 4 spoke to Lt. Jason Pate of the Fort Myers Police Department (FMPD), whose job it is to train officers in all situations, including ambush attacks.

“Every call we make has the potential to be ambushed,” said Godfather.

Godfather says preparing for the unpredictable requires unique training.

“We always try to introduce a scenario in which there is something that surprises the officer, that something unusual happens to the officer. It could be to sit down, eat while you (officer) are on duty, during weapons training and then a threat comes up and you have to react, ”said Godfather.

Godfather says that not every workout involves a reaction in self-defense.

He says sometimes it’s about showing officers how to relate to the people they serve.

“They see us as a uniform, the blue as a badge, they don’t see us as people. And if they see us as human a little more often and we can build a personal connection, someone could change their mind, recognize us and say, I knew this officer and he treated me fairly, “said Godfather.

It’s a lesson he gives every officer and one he says will only take a few minutes.

Ultimate Dallas Funds Restores Police Additional time Cash – NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Value

A record $ 4.35 billion budget for the city of Dallas, final approved on Wednesday, puts public safety first, but some other functions get extra money, including road repairs.

The final vote after months of community budget meetings and city hall debates was 13-2, with Members Cara Mendelsohn and Gay Donnell Willis opposed over concerns about rising property taxes.

In the closing hours of this year’s budget debate, city councilors restored a $ 10 million cut in police overtime they had approved just two weeks ago.

Part of the larger budget comes from COVID-19 aid funds that will not be available in the coming years.

“That’s a damn good budget. I think it’s the best budget we’ve ever seen, ”said Councilor Chad West.

West voted for the final budget, although he opposed the restoration of police overtime pay and cited the overtime cut two weeks earlier.

He wanted Police Chief Eddie Garcia to return to the City Council’s Public Safety Committee in the future if the money was required for overtime.

West said a preliminary audit report suggests there may have been a lack of police oversight of overtime in the past.

“56% of overtime was neglected in some way. That doesn’t mean that 56% had abuse. That means we don’t know, ”West said.

Councilor Paul Ridley on Wednesday also voted against the restoration of police overtime pay.

“I think we need accountability. I think taxpayers expect us to be accountable, ”said Ridley.

Mayor Eric Johnson cited violence in Deep Ellum Sunday, which killed a second of six shooting victims on Wednesday, as a justification for overtime pay.

“The police’s overtime budget is initially our backing against the increasing violence in our city. Chief Garcia has applied for this funding to complement his efforts, and I don’t think we should get him to get this money that he tells us we are going to need badly, “said Johnson.

The Dallas Police Department is hundreds of officers smaller than it was 10 years ago.

In a 12-3 overtime vote, most city councilors approved Mayor Johnson.

“And I think it’s important to keep sending the message that we support our first responders, we support our cops, and we equip them with the tools they need, including overtime while we are understaffed,” Councilor Adam McGough said.

The new budget also includes money to hire 250 more officers, pay increases for police and fire departments, and buy dozens of additional patrol cars to increase police patrol presence.

The leader of Mothers Against Police Brutality, Sara Mokuria, urged the council not to provide additional money for the police. She said the Dallas neighborhoods need more investment to increase public safety.

“DPD has consistently proven to be an ineffective intervention in creating a safe public over time,” said Mokuria.

The budget allocates funds to community programs to improve lighting and reduce putrefaction, treat substance abuse, and expand mental health alternatives to take police action.

There’s also better pay to attract and retain 911 operators and garbage disposal workers, both municipal services that have suffered from a lack of hiring difficulties.

The streets of Bad Dallas are receiving a $ 150 million repair budget, the largest yet, to start a multi-year program to reverse decades of neglect.

But the police get the largest share of the budget at around $ 565 million, including the city’s largest police budget of all time.

“We have seen some early signs of success from the chief of police in a crime reduction plan, but we have a lot more to do,” said Mayor Johnson.

Slightly lowering the property tax rate in the new household will not be enough to offset soaring Dallas real estate values. Most taxpayers will see higher bills.

Most council members said residents told them in community meetings that they wanted the services the new budget will provide and that they are willing to pay for them.

The new budget comes into force on October 1st.

The city of Dallas received a total of $ 627 million in federal COVID-19 aid some of them have been included in the new budget and some have already been spent in the current year.

Might stadium cash go to police as a substitute?

The city of Albuquerque would commit its gross income tax to pay off a new bond on a multi-purpose football stadium if voters approve it this fall. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis / Journal File)

Albuquerque voters will decide this fall whether the city should invest in a new multi-purpose football stadium, using millions of dollars that the project’s supporters say would otherwise not go to crime-fighting.

The narrative, which recently hit social media, bypasses the fact that the money tied up in the proposed $ 50 million stadium loan is being legally spent on public safety – or many other basic city services should the bond fail.

If voters approve the stadium bond when they vote on November 2nd, the city would borrow $ 50 million by issuing bonds to design and build the venue. The city would mortgage gross tax receipts to pay off the resulting debt – officials estimate payments will amount to about $ 3.2 million a year for 20 years.

BRT is the tax that is levied on the sale of goods and services. It’s more flexible than some sources of income; the city can use it for capital expenditures such as buildings as well as basic city operations. GRT is the lifeblood of the city’s general fund, which covers police and firefighters salaries, park maintenance, road maintenance, animal shelters, and more.

But amid criticism from some residents that the city has much greater needs than a football stadium, a stadium-friendly political action committee recently created an information graphic that differentiates between the money the city would spend on the stadium and the money the city would spend on the stadium used them for crime fighting.

The committee, NM For Art & Sport, is so far funded entirely by New Mexico United, according to recent campaign funding reports. United is the professional football team that, through a lease with the city, would be the main tenant of the new stadium.

The PAC’s fact-versus-fiction stadium graphic – shared by fans on various social media platforms – states as a fact: “The money used to fight crime in Albuquerque comes from the general fund. The money that would be used for this stadium is tied up for investment projects. Not spending money on a stadium does not mean that more money is available for fighting crime. “

It’s true that the tax revenue the city would use to repay a stadium loan was spent on debt related to other capital projects until this summer.

But the city recently paid off some of those bonds, releasing about $ 4 million annually, said Sanjay Bhakta, Albuquerque’s chief financial officer. The city could borrow money for a stadium and use these newly realized savings for annual payments – a strategy to finance the stadium without increasing taxes.

The city council pushed this plan forward in August and passed a bill that issues the $ 50 million tax bond for electoral approval and ties the money to the stadium project.

David Carl, United’s Director of Communications and Chairman of the Pro Stadium PAC, defended the graphic’s message based on this vote.

“On August 16, the city council voted 7-2 to allocate these funds to capital projects,” he wrote in a statement to the Journal. “We stand by our factually correct statement that not spending money on a stadium means that there is no more money available for fighting crime.”

He claims that the stadium could eventually generate new funds for public safety.

But if the $ 50 million stadium loan doesn’t go through, the money won’t be stuck in capital projects forever, even if it’s been there before.

It would be conceivable to go to the general fund, where he could pay the running costs of the city, including the police; or it could remain as a source of funding for capital projects.

That would be a matter for the city guides.

Should the loan fail, redistributing the money would require “going through the entire council process again,” said Bhakta in an email, noting that both the council and the mayor would have a say.

Las Cruces police obtain stories of film prop cash getting used as forex

LAS CRUCES – Las Cruces police received two reports over the weekend of movie props that were approved as legal tender over the weekend, a press release said Monday.

In the press release, police stated that movie props may look like real currency, but in most cases they don’t have the same texture.

According to the police, movie prop bills are usually slightly smaller in size than the actual currency. It usually also has wording identifying it as a fake currency. For example, movie prop money typically reads:

  • “For use in films only” at the top of the bill.
  • The word “copy” is usually printed on both sides of the invoice.
  • “This notice is not legal tender” or “For film use only” is usually printed on one or more sides of the invoice.
  • Often the name of the president is left out or changed.
  • The serial numbers are often the same for all movie props.

It is not illegal to have money for movie props. However, passing on movie props or an illegal currency could be classified as a criminal offense or federal crime depending on its use, police said.

Anyone who receives suspected prop money or illegally made invoices in actual currency should call the police immediately at 575-526-0795.

Dallas Price range Debate Over Police Time beyond regulation Cash – NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Value

Dallas city council members admitted a record $ 4.3 billion budget for the first time on Thursday after a last-minute controversy over police overtime money.

The spending plan benefits from $ 355 million in federal COVID-19 aid funding. This includes a slight reduction in the property tax rate. Councilors Cara Mendelsohn and Adam McGough voted against. Mendelsohn has repeatedly said that she wanted a greater reduction in the tax rate. Most taxpayers will pay higher bills due to rising property values.

There was an 8-7 vote to divert $ 10 million in police overtime pay to a reserve account.

“We’re tired of not getting answers when we call. So I cannot support handcuffing these officers, ”said Councilor Carolyn Arnold.

Proponents of the budget change said a new state law passed after calling for a “defuse” of the police last year now forbids reducing city police spending below the amount included in this new budget.

Councilor Chad West proposed to start this year with a lower amount for the police.

“It gives us and the council more flexibility in the future if there are budget issues due to COVID or something else,” West said.

Several councilors said it was a token vote to respond to state lawmakers who imposed their will on city households.

“Make sure we keep our local budgets in control at the local level instead of being bullied by those in Austin for political points,” Councilor Adam Bazaldua said.

The police will get the overtime pay back from the reserve account and Chief Eddie Garcia said the money is needed.

“Taking $ 10 million from that budget for police overtime is a bad idea, just like it was last year. And we will go through the budget like last year, ”said City Councilor Cara Mendelsohn.

Despite the overtime rerouting, the Dallas Police Department is still getting $ 8 million more than last year in their $ 583 million portion of the city budget, most of it from all departments.

The police budget provides for the recruitment and training of 250 more officers, although some of the recruitment could be offset by the departure of officers. More patrol cars will also be added to increase the visibility of the patrols.

Several city council speakers called for the police not to receive additional money and for more spending to be allocated to crime prevention programs.

“Adding police does not increase security. They only respond to crimes, “said spokesman Carvell Bowens.

Speakers said their research shows Dallas will spend about $ 422 on police for each resident, compared to about $ 49 on housing and homeless solutions.

“When you work to build the Dallas we deserve, you are spending more money on services for our communities, not the police,” said Tearyne Almendariz.

The speaker could not convince the city council.

A second Dallas city budget approval is required later in September before it goes into effect October 1, and more changes are still possible, but Thursday’s vote is a big step after months of public meetings and voter input.

Stolen automotive, cash, results in costs for Cayuga County man | Police

YORK – A Cayuga County man faces multiple charges in connection with a car reported stolen from Geneseo village, the Livingston County Sheriff’s Office reports.

Richard R. Stagles, 35, of Sterling, was charged with possession of second degree stolen property, a Class C crime; third degree criminal possession of stolen property, a class D crime; unauthorized use of a first degree motor vehicle, a class D crime; difficult third-degree unlicensed operation; and additional violations of state vehicle and traffic law.

The charges stem from an August 23 incident in which the Livingston County Emergency Communications Center received a call at around 9 a.m. reporting that a vehicle had just been stolen from an address on South Street in the village of Geneseo. Geneseo police responded at the scene for an investigation.

Shortly after the call, Sheriff’s Assistant Molly Flavin was on patrol in the Genesee and Main Street areas of York City when she saw a vehicle that matched the description of the vehicle that had been reported stolen minutes earlier. The MP confirmed that the vehicle she saw was the stolen vehicle and conducted a traffic control on Virginia Avenue, with the person quickly taken into custody without incident, the sheriff’s office said.

The investigation alleged that Stagles had stolen a large amount of money that was in the vehicle at the time of the theft, the sheriff’s office said.

A review of the records also revealed that Stagles’ driving privileges in New York had been suspended.

After his arrest, Stagles was turned over to the Deputies of Central Booking in the Livingston County Jail for processing and pre-trial detention. Prosecutors were contacted about the crime-level charges on bail and recommended that Stagles be released at their discretion as the charges were ineligible for bail under the state judicial reform law.

Stagles was later indicted in the Livingston County Centralized Arraignment in the Livingston County Jail before the Sue Mahaney City of West Sparta Justice, which Stagles released on his own with a future court hearing.

The Livingston County Public Defender’s Office represented Stagles on the prosecution. The prosecution was notified but did not appear to be charged.

Members of the Patrol Division, Criminal Investigation Division, Forensic Identification Unit and Command Staff were supported in the investigation for the Sheriff’s Office. The investigation was under the command of Sgt. Chad Tuchmacher.

As an Amazon partner, I earn from qualified purchases.

Council contemplating axing three interlocal agreements to unencumber cash for police pay raises

JACKSON, miss. (WLBT) – Jackson City Council could have found a way to give police officers a raise without having to raise taxes.

A public hearing is scheduled for Thursday, September 2, at Jackson City Hall to discuss the city’s budget for the 2021-22 financial year.

During the budget deliberations, the administration and council held talks about a possible increase in property tax in order to finance salary increases for experienced police and firefighters.

However, this tax hike may not be necessary if several items that will be considered by the council on Thursday are adopted.

The council is considering repealing three agreements, two that would allow the city to detain offenders in prisons outside of the county, and one to pay the Hinds County Sheriff’s Office half a million dollars to provide additional patrols around the city .

If repealed, the agreements would free approximately $ 1 million in city funds and could be used to fund raises for corporations in the Jackson Police Department, their Jackson Fire Department equivalents, and communications personnel.

It would also mean the city would not have to levy taxes on a mill to generate the funds needed to raise wages.

A mill would make about $ 1.2 million a year, according to the city.

Council President Virgi Lindsay says she also supports the idea because the agreements were never implemented.

“They were never implemented for one reason or another, and as I suggested early on, this is our opportunity to take these funds and invest in our first responders,” she said.

The council approved interlocal agreements with Yazoo County and Holmes County last October that would have enabled the city to transport felons there and place them in prisons.

The agreements were necessary because Hinds County is currently unable to detain most of the offenders at the Raymond Detention Center under a federal consent decree.

Holmes County’s board of directors signed the agreement last year, stating that Jackson detainees transported to Holmes County Jail be screened for COVID-19 prior to transportation.

As of June, the Yazoo board had not yet signed its agreement.

If both are overturned, Jackson would save $ 500,000.

In March of this year, the Council signed a second agreement one to provide $ 500,000 to the Hinds County Sheriff to pay for additional patrols around the city.

The proposal was drafted and approved by Ward 3 city councilor Kenneth Stokes with no details being worked out.

For example, the city guides wanted the money to be used to hire additional deputies specifically for patrols in Jackson.

However, the late Sheriff Lee Vance wanted to use the funds to pay existing alternates overtime to patrol Jackson after their normal shifts were over.

It was unclear whether the terms of this agreement were ever finalized.

Sheriff Vance died in August after contracting COVID-19.

The meeting begins at 6 p.m. in the council chamber.

Copyright 2021 WLBT. All rights reserved.

Chicago-area Culver’s eating places elevating cash to assist police

Culver restaurants in the Chicago area are raising money to aid police

From Bridgeview to Harwood Heights and Berwyn to Oak Lawn, at least 11 restaurants in Culver, Chicago area are raising funds Monday to help police.

from Bridge view to Harwood Heights and Berwyn to Oak lawn, at least 11 Culver’s in the Chicago area Restaurants raise money on Monday to help the police.

The owner of Culver’s at 9515 South Kedzie in Evergreen park said it was part of the company’s efforts to give back to the communities it serves.

Matthew Herrmann says that 20 percent of all sales from 10 a.m. when opening until 10 p.m. when closing benefit the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation.

DOWNLOAD THE FOX 32 NEWS APP FOR BREAKING ALERTS

Culver’s has been stepping up earlier for a variety of reasons, but today the bags of burgers are helping families of cops killed or injured on duty, like Chicago officer Ella French who did it retired last week and her partner Carlos Yanez Jr., who is still in the hospital after he was shot three times.

The foundation provides instruction and other educational assistance to the sons and daughters of fallen or seriously wounded Chicago officers.

Herrmann says his customers are happy to help.

“Since we started sending out the flyers about a week ago, people have come in just asking questions and willing to donate. We already had a few people who donated, so I think it’s a great day for everyone, ”said Herrmann.

SIGN UP FOR FOX 32 NEWS E-MAIL UPDATES

“They enjoy doing something. They know the orders are terribly large and very generous and we are happy to be generous back,” said Herrmann, who hopes to raise tens of thousands of dollars as he has done over the past few years .

Culver’s participating restaurants include Franklin Park, Harwood Heights, Berwyn, Oak Lawn, Chicago Six Corners, Morton Grove, Lyon, Elmhurst, Bridgeview, Elmwood Park and Evergreen Park.

Darkish cash group launches marketing campaign to push Portland-area leaders for outcomes on police reforms, homelessness, cleanup efforts

A new anonymously funded political group launched a campaign on Friday to encourage elected leaders in the Portland area to move faster and better coordinate to address challenges viewed by unnamed donors as the greatest challenges in the city.

Many of the things they want to do, from creating safe homes for people on the streets to reducing gun violence, are in great demand with voters and officials from across the political spectrum. But they do not have easy solutions and there is no broad consensus on which steps to take in the right direction.

The dark money charity People for Portland began broadcasting television spots Friday urging officials at all levels of government to “end the humanitarian crisis on our streets, reform the police force, restore public safety and cleanse our once beautiful city “.

“Portland is still full of potential, but the politicians are doing too little, too slowly, to save our broken city,” says a woman in the TV ad as black and white pictures of tent camps, graffiti and headlines about murders pass by.

“Let’s tell the politicians to do their job to save the city we love,” concludes the ad, suggesting that people go to the group’s website and sign up for unspecified future political activity.

With the group’s funders remaining largely anonymous, the two longtime political advisors who lead the campaign have a more public role in the appeal. Dan Lavey, who has worked for independents and Republicans like Chris Dudley, and Kevin Looper, who has worked for progressive causes and Democratic candidates like Governor Kate Brown, are partners in this effort.

Under state and federal campaign funding rules, it is legal for the group’s donors to remain anonymous under their establishment as a political nonprofit.

Looper said in an interview on Friday that the central problem Portland is facing is “the lack of courage among elected officials … which makes them more afraid to do wrong than to do something”.

The campaign targets every elected official with ties to the Portland area, including city officials, district officials, metro regional government councilors, the sheriff and district attorney, state lawmakers, and the Portland-home governor who is also from Portland. Through digital and television advertising, the total cost of which they rejected, Lavey and Looper plan to urge local voters to contact their elected leaders and urge them to take action on People for Portland’s priorities.

“We need to get the public more involved so … elected officials at all levels feel the heat of the people they represent,” Lavey said.

Local leaders, particularly on the Portland City Council, are already working to resolve most of the problems that People for Portland lament. But the group says they want them to get results faster.

That includes making body-worn cameras mandatory for the Portland Police Department, which the U.S. Department of Justice asked the city to enforce July. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler directed the police bureau this month to prepare for body-worn cameras, including researching various camera systems and getting bids. OPB reported. Long a vocal opponent of body-worn devices, Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty said she was learning how to use the technology successfully in other cities, OPB said.

People for Portland urged the city to request the body-worn cameras in a comment sent to The Oregonian / OregonLive and made separately available to the newsroom on Friday.

The city commissioners are already in the process of defining six locations where it will be built Protected Villages with showers, toilets, laundry service, psychiatric care and case managers. The move is tied to the latest from the city council politics in the evacuation of camps, which lowered the bar for the removal of “high impact” camps, in part because of the idea that people could move to the city-sanctioned villages.

The city and other regional and state government agencies also began concerted efforts to accelerate garbage collection and landfill cleaning in the Portland area after service cuts and lack of coordination resulted in solid waste accumulations around the city during the last year. However, the group says governments have more to do and “professional sanitation is an expected basic function of government”.

In addition, People for Portland wants Multnomah County’s District Attorney Mike Schmidt and other prosecutors to “prosecute those involved in violence and vandalism” during demonstrations, according to a form letter posted on the group’s website. Schmidt has obtained guilty pleadings and multi-year prison sentences for several people charged with arson, window smashing and other vandalism in connection with nighttime protests in downtown and other parts of the city.

People for Portland Cities Survey paid for by FM3 Research as proof that many Portlanders agree with its priorities and want local executives to deliver faster results. According to the group, a poll of more than 800 likely voters conducted more than three months ago showed that 84% of respondents agreed that tent camps are a “humanitarian emergency” that requires more urgent action from city and county officials, and 85% supported it Redirecting existing taxpayers’ money to create “50 Safe Sanitary Villages” for the homeless across the city. When it comes to public safety, the group cites survey results that found 62% of respondents said the Portland police force could be reformed, 91% supported police body cameras, and 49% believed the city had too few police officers. 84 percent of respondents agreed that law enforcement agencies “should aggressively pursue the small number of people who use protests to cover for property damage and violence”.

Finally, People for Portland asked if Portland voters would stand against the city and county incumbents in the next election if things didn’t get better. Almost nine out of ten eligible voters surveyed said they did.

A poll of 300 Portland residents conducted by Portland firm DHM Research for The Oregonian / OregonLive over a very similar period April 30 through May 6 found that 42% said the city should hire more police officers . Most of the city dwellers surveyed said the police presence should remain unchanged (30%) or decrease (24%).

Lavey and Looper repeatedly pointed out a short timeframe – Looper suggested two years – in which elected leaders need to make significant improvements to prevent Portland from becoming a “lost city” in which a critical mass of people have decided not to renew commercial leases and stop supporting elements of a vibrant city like art.

Andrew Hoan, CEO and President of the Portland Business Alliance, did not immediately respond to a call Friday afternoon asking whether the group supports the People for Portland campaign.

However, two well-known business owners expressed their support. Businessman and philanthropist Jordan Schnitzer, whose commercial real estate company owns Portland real estate, said he had “been approached about funding,” met with the group, and believed the campaign had “some good goals.”

“I support anything that helps Portland get back on track,” said Schnitzer, who refused to say whether he made a donation to People for Portland.

Tim Boyle, President and CEO of Columbia Sportswear Company, was open about his support for the group in an interview Friday. “I contributed some money to surveys to validate what everyone in town thought was right,” said Boyle. “The city is close to my heart, I grew up here.”

“Every elected official in the state of Oregon, especially the senior official, is all complicit in the problem we have in Portland today,” Boyle said. “Half of them live in Portland, the other half visit Portland, and it’s a shame they don’t actively move forward on all the issues that are clearly visible to everyone.”

Boyle said some Columbia Sportswear Company employees cited problems in the city as the reason they were leaving, and some potential hires turned down jobs they should have worked in the city.

“I’m more than happy to talk about this out loud and put my name on my loudness,” said Boyle. “I’m not a black money person.”

– Hillary Borrud

hborrud@oregonian.com; @hborrud

Massachusetts Police Can Simply Seize Your Cash. The DA of One County Makes It Close to Unattainable to Get It Again. — ProPublica

If you’re reading this, we’d like to learn more about you. To help us better understand who we’re reaching, who we’re not reaching and how we can improve our journalism, please take this brief, anonymous reader survey.

This story was produced in partnership with WBUR.

Devantee Jones-Bernier was spending an afternoon at a friend’s apartment in Worcester, Massachusetts, when police banged on the door, looking for drugs. They found marijuana in the unit, where several people had gathered, but not on the 21-year-old college student. Police took his iPhone and $95 in cash.

The district attorney’s office charged him and seven others in May 2014 with drug offenses, but later dismissed them against Jones-Bernier and all but one person. Despite that, law enforcement officials held onto his money and phone.

Under a system called civil asset forfeiture, police and prosecutors can confiscate, and keep, money and property they suspect is part of a drug crime. In Massachusetts, they can hold that money indefinitely, even when criminal charges have been dismissed. Trying to get one’s money back is so onerous, legal experts say it may violate due process rights under the U.S. Constitution. It’s especially punishing for people with low incomes.

Four years passed before the Worcester County district attorney’s office tried to notify Jones-Bernier, as required by law, about the status of his money. The office ran a newspaper notice, three times over three weeks, listing Jones-Bernier’s name in tiny legal type alongside more than 100 others involved in separate seizures. The ads said the district attorney intended to keep their money, and those who wanted to fight back had 20 days from the final ad to respond in civil court.

Jones-Bernier had no clue about the ads so he didn’t respond.

Massachusetts is an outlier among states when it comes to civil forfeiture laws. Prosecutors in the commonwealth are able to keep seized assets using a lower legal bar than in any other state.

“It’s out of step with justice,” said Louis Rulli, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who specializes in public interest law. “It produces unjust results and cries out for reform.”

Amid rising national attention to the issue, other states have rewritten their laws, and the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of a man whose car was seized during an arrest on a small drug sale. But Massachusetts has not budged.

WBUR took an in-depth look at Worcester County, which ranks among the top counties for forfeitures in the state. An examination of all forfeitures filed there in 2018 found that of the hundreds of incidents, nearly 1 in 4 — or 24% — had no accompanying drug conviction or criminal drug case filing.

And that is likely conservative; another 9% of seizures had no publicly available court records, meaning there were no charges or courts sealed the records.

In an investigation with ProPublica, WBUR also found that Worcester County District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. regularly stockpiles seized money, including that of people not charged with a crime, for years, and sometimes decades.

In more than 500 instances between 2016 and 2019, WBUR found that funds had been in the custody of the DA’s office for a decade or more before officials had attempted to notify people and give them a chance to get their money back. One case dated back to 1990.

The yearslong delays raise “obvious due process concerns,” according to Sam Gedge, an attorney at the Institute for Justice in Arlington, Virginia, a nonprofit that has studied the issue and advocated for changes to forfeiture laws across the country. “The notion that you have the government waiting even two years — but certainly two decades — to commence forfeiture proceedings is, if not unprecedented, then extraordinarily rare.”

Gedge said the latitude granted to law enforcement in Massachusetts in civil forfeitures reflects broad problems with the system nationwide. In general, he said, “It’s much easier for the government to take your cash, your car, your home, using civil forfeiture than it is to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in criminal court.”

Early, in an interview, said his office obeys the law.

“We follow all the rules that the court gives us,” he said. As for the long delays in filing forfeitures, “We try and get these wrapped up as expeditiously as we can,” Early said.

But for hundreds of people in Worcester County, it’s been anything but expeditious. There’s no oversight by the state when it comes to how long district attorneys wait to notify people that, without a court fight, their money will stay in law enforcement’s hands. And there is no public reporting of criminal conviction rates tied to forfeitures.

In the absence of that information, WBUR set out to compile the data. To evaluate the county’s record, WBUR analyzed all the Worcester County forfeitures in 2018, a year chosen to allow sufficient time for related criminal cases to have concluded. The analysis included the review of thousands of pages of records in several courts and included forfeitures from 396 seizures.

Among those, there were more than 90 instances where people lost money or cars, taken most often during traffic stops, frisks and home searches — even though there weren’t related drug convictions or drug charges. Law enforcement still held onto the cash and property.

Civil forfeitures are big business in Worcester County, where Early has been the elected district attorney since 2006. His office brought in nearly $4 million in forfeitures in just the latest four years, from fiscal 2017 through 2020, according to analyses by the state’s trial court.

Where that money goes is notable. In almost all cases, the proceeds are split 50/50 between the Worcester County district attorney’s office and the local or state police department that handled the seizure. That’s legal in Massachusetts, but it’s a system rife with conflicts of interest because the offices confiscating the money also stand to benefit from it, lawyers and civil rights advocates say.

Early has been criticized by the state auditor for spending forfeiture funds on a Zamboni ice-clearing machine and tree-trimming equipment. Over the years, his office has posted photos on its website of Early handing out checks for “Drug Forfeiture Community Reinvestment,” to pay for baseball and softball fields or to support a cheerleading team.

Early said he’s proud that his office has spent large sums of confiscated money on youth programs and drug prevention. “I love taking the drug dealers’ money. I love taking their lifeblood and putting it back into the community,” he said.

But WBUR’s analysis shows many of the people who lose money to Early’s office are not charged with dealing drugs.

A civil forfeiture notice published in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette in 2016 from the Worcester County DA notifying more than 700 people to take legal action if they want to dispute the DA’s claims to their money.


Credit:
Jesse Costa/WBUR

Preying on the Poor

While the system has evolved into a significant revenue source, it started as a remnant of old English law. Civil forfeiture was pioneered at the federal level in 1970, touted as a tool in the war on drugs. The idea was to financially weaken big drug dealers and gangs by allowing police to take their money, property and drugs.

When the drug forfeiture law was adopted in Massachusetts in 1971, it required prosecutors to show a “preponderance of evidence” to support a seizure. Specifically, they had to establish that seized property or money was “more likely than not” involved in a drug crime. In 1989, Massachusetts lawmakers eased the rules to the current “probable cause” standard, the least demanding burden of proof in the American legal system. Massachusetts was not alone at the time, but it’s the only state that in the intervening years has not reinstated a higher level of proof, according to an Institute for Justice report.

Police in this state can take money or belongings based merely on the reasonable suspicion that someone is involved in drug activity. Often police cite people appearing nervous, carrying rolls of $20 bills or traveling on what officers call a “well-known route used by drug traffickers” as the justification for seizure.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2019 ruled unanimously on a civil forfeiture case, Timbs v. Indiana, that the state’s forfeiture of a man’s $42,000 Range Rover was unconstitutional. The court found that confiscating his vehicle was “grossly disproportionate” to the seriousness of his crime — the sale of $225 worth of heroin — and violated the Eighth Amendment protection from excessive government fines, as well as the 14th Amendment right to due process.

The Timbs ruling was cited this year in a case involving a Massachusetts woman whose car was confiscated for six years after police suspected it was connected to drug trafficking charges her son was facing. The son died before prosecutors finished trying the case. The woman faced no charges. The Berkshire County district attorney finally released the vehicle, after a high-profile legal group stepped in to sue the DA on her behalf.

In other New England states, people have a better chance of getting their belongings back from seizures.

Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont all require some form of criminal conviction for the forfeiture of property. And in Rhode Island, prosecutors must meet the preponderance-of-evidence standard. In federal cases too, the law has changed from probable cause to a higher standard of proof; the government must show that property is “likely” connected to a crime in order to forfeit it.

And Maine has gone a step further. It recently passed a bill to abolish civil forfeiture, becoming the fourth state in the nation to do so. The law now requires a criminal conviction before law enforcement can permanently take property.

The Massachusetts forfeiture law was originally intended to go after people involved in large drug rings. But Rulli, the University of Pennsylvania professor, said there has been a shift in how forfeiture is deployed at the street level, targeting people involved in petty crimes or marijuana sales, or no crime at all.

“This became a very lucrative area of revenue. And as a result it got applied to ordinary folks,” rather than focusing solely on drug kingpins, he said.

WBUR’s analysis of Worcester County forfeitures from 2017 through 2019 found that more than half of the seizures in these cases were for less than $500. In one incident, Fitchburg police seized $10 from a man listed as homeless. In another, Sturbridge police took $10 from a 14-year-old boy.

State Rep. Jay Livingstone, who represents the Back Bay, Beacon Hill and parts of Cambridge, is a former assistant district attorney for Middlesex County. He said civil forfeiture tends to disproportionately affect poor people, and he’s witnessed law enforcement “taking small amounts of money from people that really can’t afford it.”

After filing two unsuccessful measures to overhaul the forfeiture system in Massachusetts, Livingstone now has a third reform measure pending in the Legislature’s Joint Committee on the Judiciary that would require a conviction and provide legal counsel to the indigent.

Navigating the system to reclaim money is an enormous challenge, in part because forfeiture falls into a complicated, two-pronged legal track in Massachusetts.

First, police seize money under suspicion of drug activity and pass the matter on to the district attorney. The DA’s office, if it decides to file a criminal drug charge, generally does so within a few weeks in district court.

Separately, the DA files a forfeiture case in a different, civil, court system — typically the state Superior Court. The civil and criminal cases are not linked in court databases, adding to the complexity of navigating the system and making oversight of the outcomes difficult.

Beyond the opaque court process, those in charge of civil forfeitures — district attorneys and police — face little public accountability when it comes to seizing money from residents, and what happens to the confiscated cash and property.

The only public accounting of how the money is spent is the information DAs now must report to the state treasurer’s office, as part of the Legislature’s 2018 criminal justice reform. But those reports don’t disclose all the spending and are not itemized beyond broad categories, such as “other law enforcement purposes.”

A state commission formed in 2019 to study the forfeiture system had little luck obtaining more data from the DAs. During commission meetings, including one in June, officials said DAs had ignored their requests, as well as questions about how they collect and spend confiscated funds.

The commission recently released its recommendations to the Legislature, proposing a number of changes to check the power of law enforcement. Chief among them are raising the burden of proof for forfeitures and removing the financial incentive to keep seized assets, by requiring that the money be sent to the state’s general fund. The proposal also seeks stronger reporting to the state and a set minimum amount of money eligible for forfeiture.

Early said he has now adopted a minimum of $1,000 for civil forfeitures, a policy he updated a day after receiving WBUR’s questions and a week after the commission issued its report. But he defended past forfeitures of small sums, saying any alleged drug money is bad for neighborhoods.

“If I can get $5 or $10, $20, $50, $200, $50,000 or $100,000, it’s all going into my prevention efforts,” Early said.

Some of the commission’s proposed changes are likely to face opposition. Many in law enforcement argue that civil asset forfeiture helps take down major drug traffickers, stripping criminals of resources and destabilizing organized crime. And officers do find drugs in many instances, as they did in a 2018 case where Worcester police, along with members of a drug task force, busted a heroin distribution ring and seized $30,414 in cash.

Norfolk County District Attorney Michael Morrissey represented all DAs on the state commission. In one of its recent meetings, he said his office uses forfeiture funds to pay for extraditions and warrants. In a subsequent interview, Morrissey said he believes some of the commission’s proposed changes are reasonable, but warned that if those funds were to dry up, the Legislature “should start thinking about how much money they’re going to have to backfill my budget.”

Early said he relies on confiscated money to pay for investigations into drugs and human trafficking, for expert witnesses and witness protection. Without that money, he said, it’s possible his office would need the state to increase his budget.

He argued that there’s no conflict of interest in law enforcement keeping confiscated funds. As for raising the burden of proof to a preponderance of evidence, Early now says he’s for it.

In the DA’s Hands

None of the proposed reforms address how long a DA can hold seized funds. Money confiscated by police sits in limbo until the DA files a forfeiture case in civil court. Early’s office has amassed hundreds of thousands of dollars by routinely waiting years to file civil forfeiture actions, without notifying individuals of the status of their money and effectively holding it hostage until court proceedings commence. This includes the 500 cases WBUR found that lingered for more than a decade.

Early blamed police for being slow at times to turn over seized cash to his office, but did not name specific departments. He also said it’s his office’s practice to wait for criminal cases to conclude before filing civil forfeitures. That doesn’t explain the yearslong delays, however.

Legal specialists said waiting years, if not decades, to file forfeiture motions may violate an individual’s due process rights.

“It’s exactly what the framers of the Constitution were concerned about … a state coming in, depriving someone of their property and, really, you can’t do anything about it,” said Nora Demleitner, a professor at the Washington and Lee University School of Law. “It’s very hard, procedurally, the way this is set up, to act against [the state].”

Early disagreed with critics and said interested parties are provided an opportunity to respond in court. “In no way, shape, or form do we look at that as an infringement on people’s rights,” he said.

But last week, Early said he now plans to tighten the window for filing a civil forfeiture to within two years of a criminal case concluding.

Wyoming’s Supreme Court ruled last year that waiting even nine months to file a civil forfeiture case was too long. The court said the state attorney general’s office violated an Illinois man’s due process rights by delaying a forfeiture filing that followed a traffic stop. The man was never charged with a crime, and the state was ordered to return $470,000 seized from his trunk on an interstate highway.

The majority of states require DAs to take action within 90 days of a seizure or the conclusion of a criminal case. But in Massachusetts, there is no deadline for DAs to file a civil forfeiture action in court. The only legal obligation is that DAs must eventually notify people by mail or newspaper notice that they intend to keep property.

Many of Early’s delays reflect his stockpiling of cases. His office has a practice of combining dozens of unrelated incidents into large forfeiture cases. The long waits can mean people seeking to reclaim money never receive court notices, often because of outdated addresses.

In the last five years, the Worcester County DA packaged more than 1,270 people into 16 cases, involving more than $350,000, according to WBUR’s analysis. Nearly three-quarters of the seizures in these cases were more than three years old by the time the forfeiture was filed. In one instance, Early’s office folded more than 700 incidents into a single case.

Take, for instance, Commonwealth of Massachusetts vs. Twenty Eight Thousand Three Hundred Fifty Six Dollars Fifty Cents ($28,356.50) In United States Currency. At first glance, the sum seems to reflect proceeds from a substantial drug bust. But court documents actually list 109 separate names and seizures — including one as low as $11 — spanning nearly 20 years.

Among the names in this giant batch in 2018 was Jones-Bernier, whose $95 had been taken four years prior. He was listed in an ad the DA’s office ran in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, as having no known address. Jones-Bernier didn’t know his name had appeared there until he was contacted by WBUR. He said Early’s office could have sent a letter to his home address, which was on his driver’s license at the time of the arrest.

“There’s no way they could have NOT found my address,” he said. “It seems like a lazy attempt to try to resolve an issue that they knew they created.”

Jones-Bernier never got his property back. DA Early declined to comment on the case.

Early said his staff determined it was “better to package” cases and deal with them as a large group in the interest of “judicial economy” — meaning it would cost his office more money to file each case individually.

Of more than 1,000 seizures included in forfeiture cases from 2017 through 2019, Early’s office returned seized money to only 16 people, according to data obtained through a public records request.

Early, 63, was a defense attorney for 17 years before becoming district attorney. Much of his life has been steeped in politics, both as the son of a longtime U.S. congressman and now as DA for the past 15 years. And he has faced controversy in his long tenure. Last year, the State Ethics Commission alleged that Early and an assistant violated conflict of interest law by having a state trooper alter an embarrassing police report involving a district judge’s daughter arrested for driving under the influence.

Early and his attorney have maintained he did nothing wrong. The case is ongoing.

On the campaign trail in 2018, an opponent grilled Early for his office’s use of forfeited money, including the purchase of official cars for him and an assistant and the $985 Zamboni.

That ice resurfacer was included in a 2013 report by the state auditor that found more than $50,000 in expenditures lacked adequate documentation on what law enforcement purpose they served. It flagged funding for such items as upkeep of tennis and basketball courts.

Early’s office defended the Zamboni purchase at the time, saying it was for city rinks where members of the county diversion program worked, and that the athletic court upkeep was for a summer youth program. State law permits district attorneys to use up to 10% of forfeited funds for drug-related rehabilitation and education programs if they “further a law enforcement purpose.”

The audit report said Early’s office lacked transparency in how forfeited proceeds were accounted for and distributed, and said it should better document confiscated funds “to ensure all case information is correct, it receives all the judges’ forfeiture orders, and local police departments properly account for funds in their possession.”

In a mandatory post-audit review a few months later, Early’s office told the auditor it was establishing procedures to improve tracking of forfeited funds, according to public records obtained from the auditor’s office.

The auditor has not followed up with the Worcester DA about these procedures since then. Early’s office said that after the audit, they asked police departments for an update on seized funds and now communicate with them “regularly.”

The Struggle to Get Money Back

In theory, anyone can fight to get their seized property back. But unlike in criminal cases, there is no right to a free, court-appointed attorney in civil forfeiture. For many people, it’s impossible to pay an attorney the several thousands of dollars it can cost to pursue their property. Often, a lawyer’s fees would exceed the value of the seized money.

Many people never try to get their money back. Some lack the language skills to wage a legal fight; others just want to avoid tangling with law enforcement. And then there’s the tight, 20-day, window to respond — among the shortest in the country, according to a WBUR review of state statutes. It leaves little time for a letter to be rerouted from an incorrect address, or for the property owner to hire an attorney.

As a result of these hurdles, the majority of civil forfeiture cases are ruled in the district attorney’s favor by default, meaning people took no action to get their money back. In Worcester County, 84% of forfeiture cases in fiscal 2019 were default judgments, according to data from the trial court.

Even when people do take action to get their money back, the district attorney may have other plans for it. One resident found that out the hard way.

Northbridge police and members of the Blackstone Valley Drug Task Force stormed into Laura Wojcechowicz’s house on a September evening as she was getting ready for bed.

“The SWAT came and … they barged right in and held the gun to my chest, told me, ‘Sit the f— down, don’t you f—ing move. Who’s in the house?’” she recalled.

Wojcechowicz, a 52-year-old grandmother, works part-time as a personal care attendant but said her hours were cut back because of the pandemic.

She didn’t know it then, but police were executing a search warrant. They suspected her partner of 30 years, William McPhail, was selling drugs from the home the two share.

She said the police told her, “We’re not here for you.”

But at least $4,800 that she says belonged to her ended up in the hands of the police, even though she was not a target of the investigation.

“There was money in the safe that was in a little wooden box. … It had a little lock and it was all $100 bills,” she recalled. “And I put it in there and I put it in Bill’s safe.”

On the evening of Sept. 30, 2020, law enforcement records show, police found the $4,800 in McPhail’s safe — alongside an unspecified amount of cocaine and heroin. Even though she did not personally face charges, to get the seized money back, Wojcechowicz would have to prove it belonged to her and that it had no connection to the drugs.

It was going to be a steep climb. Wojcechowicz, like anyone fighting a forfeiture in Massachusetts, was in essence guilty unless she could prove her innocence.

Early’s office sought and received a detailed accounting of her finances over a five-month period, according to emails reviewed by WBUR. She said the cash was a combination of state pandemic unemployment assistance, federal stimulus funds and money from her mother.

“She has produced all of her bank records,” said Joseph Hennessey, a Worcester defense attorney who is working on Wojcechowicz’s case pro bono. “She has produced all that, and they’re still not satisfied.”

Without resources and a lawyer, it’s virtually impossible to get one’s money back. “The indigent community doesn’t have the ability to fight for the return of the money, so they are the target. They lose out on all of these seizures,” Hennessey said.

And Early’s office has shown it doesn’t need to find drugs or file criminal charges in order to keep seized property. In court filings, the DA lists victories in such instances and cites them as precedent.

In some cases, district attorneys will accept a deal, according to interviews with seven lawyers who have worked on forfeiture cases in Massachusetts. Prosecutors will often drop criminal charges or seek lighter sentences, the lawyers said, if a defendant gives up all or part of the cash that was seized.

“One of the things that we would have to do in order to get someone a better plea deal was to sign off. Basically, my client would have to sign over their money,” said Arielle Sharma, an attorney with the Boston nonprofit Lawyers for Civil Rights and a former criminal defense attorney in Worcester. “It’s cash for freedom, right?”

After weeks of back-and-forth, Early’s office rejected the documentation Wojcechowicz had provided to show the seized money belonged to her. Her partner, McPhail, was facing two years in county jail. Wojcechowicz’s lawyer told her if she dropped the fight for her money, McPhail would have a better chance at less jail time.

A judge in the case said the forfeiture had to be resolved before he would sentence McPhail.

Wojcechowicz said she felt she had no choice but to agree to give up the money.

McPhail pleaded guilty to two counts of drug possession and another two counts of possession with the intent to distribute. He was in jail for 47 days, but avoided the rest of the term. He is currently on probation.

What Philadelphia Reveals About America’s Homicide Surge

Early’s spokeswoman, Lindsay Corcoran, in statements said the office does often agree to “concessions” on charges, “but these are in no way linked to any forfeiture.”

In this case, she said there was no deal: “Our office is following the law and all forfeiture proceedings are ultimately decided by a judge.”

Since losing the money, Wojcechowicz’s finances have been tight. She said she’s had to think twice about her spending, even to fill the gas tank.

“It stops me from going to do stuff with my grandkids,” she said. “My mother helps me out a lot. It was a big hit.”

Rahsaan Hall, director of the Racial Justice Program for the ACLU of Massachusetts, said the state Legislature needs to adopt more protections for people like Wojcechowicz.

Hall, who served on the state’s civil forfeiture commission, said the recommendations before lawmakers are a good starting point. But he urged the Legislature to go further, by requiring a criminal conviction in order to keep someone’s money.

He said the state’s civil forfeiture laws, as they stand now, are “a stain on our identity.”

This story was supported by the Pulitzer Center.

WBUR investigations editor Christine Willmsen and senior investigative reporter Beth Healy contributed to this report.