Dollars For Drugs: Confiscated Money Helps Law Enforcement Fight War On Drugs


UPDATED: Thursday June 27, 2013 11:50 PM

One $20 bill can take a long time to get when it’s drug money, confiscated by law enforcement officials like Westerville Police Lt. PJ Scowden.

“I use this seizure money that we’ve taken off drug dealers to buy drugs from drug dealers,” Scowden said.

Drug arrests lead to other property grabs, as well. Cars and houses are big-ticket items. Those get sold at auction, and the cash is split among arresting agencies.

Police departments like Westerville use the money for non-budgeted items to help fight the war on drugs. Westerville recently purchased a night-vision sniper rifle, which otherwise would have been impossible for a small department to purchase.

The department also used forfeiture funds to buy automated fingerprint identification systems – an AFIS machine – that immediately scours a national database for possible matches.

“It can take seconds or years, depending on if the person ever had their fingerprints taken or ever been arrested,” Scowden said.

The first day the department had the machine; it turned up four positive hits.

Officer Ed Rickels of Whitehall said that his department purchased a $145,000 mobile SWAT command post with drug money - at no cost to taxpayers.

“All the walls in the truck are dry erase boards, so we can do assignments on the boards, layouts, whatever, and you can just wipe it off when you’re finished,” Rickels said.

It is functional and fitted for safety items, like a bulletproof body bunker.

“A shield is usually a riot shield, it’s not ballistic proof. This is ballistic proof,” he said.

Whitehall also used drug money to upgrade the cameras in its cruisers.

The Ohio State Highway Patrol uses money it gets off the street for the state’s 33 drug-detecting K9s, as well as training and upkeep.

Columbus police are in line to purchase a command center using drug seizure money.

The department plans to enhance hostage negotiations by gathering all of the information at the scene and simultaneously sending it to everyone monitoring a standoff.

Fairfield County Sheriff Dave Phalen said the drug money helps enforcement programs stay afloat in Hocking and Fairfield counties.

One major bust turned a marijuana grow operation into a teaching tool.

“They had a lot of equipment, a lot of grow lights, a lot of different things, and we were able to give those to a number of the schools,” Phalen said.

The Fairfield County 911 center gets hundreds of calls a day. The usual calls include victims with chest pains or burglary calls. But with the forfeited funds, they were able to purchase a program that allows them to handle the unusual calls with quickness and ease.

Before the total response system, liability issues kept operators like Elizabeth Maple from giving any kind of medical instruction.

Now, if they can talk someone through CPR before medics get to a scene, they can make a real difference.

“Possibly save that person’s life,” Maple said.

The continuous turnover of drug money can benefit every citizen, right down to educating the littlest ones.

“A lot of things we wouldn’t be able to do, if not for the forfeiture drug money,” Phalen said.

The dollars from drugs are possibly the only instance where crime does pay in central Ohio communities.

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