Seizure funds may infuse Vidor PD with cash

Published 8:29 pm Friday, February 23, 2018

By Larry Holt

The Orange Leader


VIDOR — In 1989, Texas passed civil forfeiture laws empowering law enforcement to seize assets from criminals. According to reports since then, law enforcement in Texas has seized not only cars, televisions, wallets and other valuables from known or suspected criminals but there has also been an increase in instances of citizens losing their property who were not involved in criminal activity, according to the Institute for Justice, a libertarian think tank.

In a July 2017, public information release Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, “Civil asset forfeiture takes the material support of the criminals and instead makes it the material support of law enforcement, funding priorities like new vehicles, bulletproof vests, opioid overdoes reversal kits, and better training.”

Civil forfeiture watchdog organizations such as Freedom Works and Institute for Justice have ranked Texas law enforcement with a failing grade of D+ mainly because the threshold for law enforcement to seize property is low and the incentive to seize is high, having an ability to potentially retain up to 70 percent or more of the forfeiture proceeds.

A December 2014 Texas A&M Public Policy Research Institute report, “Asset Forfeiture in Texas: DPS and County Interactions” says in part, “unlike in a criminal trial, the owner of the assets is not entitled to state-provided legal representation, so recovering assets often requires hiring an attorney. The prosecutor does not have to meet the ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ standard of evidence used in criminal cases. Instead, the prosecutor need only establish that the asset be forfeited by ‘a preponderance of the evidence.’ No criminal conviction is necessary. These three features of civil forfeiture hearings make it extremely difficult for asset owners to recover their assets in a forfeiture hearing even if the claims to the assets are legitimate. In a best-case scenario, assets could be tied up for months in the legal system.”

“State law enforcement agencies often report that after paying salaries, they have little money left over to buy necessary equipment. These [seizure] revenues are important to many law enforcement agencies as supplements to their budget.”

Vidor Police Chief Rod Carroll requested approval by the Vidor City Council authorizing an amendment to the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the City of Vidor and Vidor Police Association regarding positions, promotions, and wages in the Vidor Police Department.

Carroll is updating and restructuring the department with a goal of creating sustainable efficiencies; having spearheaded the addition of a K-9 unit to the department, upgrading body-worn cameras, and vehicle tracking-information sharing systems, and is now seeking to fill two captain positions from within the cadre of experienced officers.

“These changes will help create a balanced organization,” Carroll said.

Carroll assured the city council he has been working with the city finance director and is confident wages and promotions are sustainable within existing budget parameters using funds from the former Chief Administrative Assistant position.

“Going forward, an additional source of funding might be seizure funds,” Carroll said addressing a concern by Councilman Gary Herrera of where the salary would come from in the coming years.

“Agencies all along Interstate Highway 10 corridor are making substantial seizures. There are millions of dollars traveling along the I-10 corridor through our city. It’s possible we could use seizure funds to support our department,” Carroll said. “How much is speculative at this point.”

President of the Vidor Police Association Police Sergeant Rodney Johnson resoundingly endorsed Carroll’s efforts, specifically endorsing the restructuring and subsequent promotions and wages.