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Police work that helps pay

St. Charles Police Det. Drew Lamela demonstrates the department's new video evidence process system, which was purchased with money from a successful drug asset seizure of confiscated funds.
St. Charles Police Det. Drew Lamela demonstrates the department's new video evidence process system, which was purchased with money from a successful drug asset seizure of confiscated funds.

The St. Charles Police Department’s new video evidence processing system has, in its first six months of use, helped police solve a burglary and armed robbery by enhancing surveillance video.

But the department would not have been able to afford the equipment if it hadn’t been for a 2009 traffic stop leading to arrests that, through a drug asset seizure of confiscated funds, eventually netted the department more than $20,000, Deputy Chief Dave Kintz said.

“Without having access to a seizure like that, I can guarantee you we would not be able to make that purchase for several years,” he said.

Officials of other law enforcement agencies in the Tri-Cities agree that asset forfeitures can help maximize their departments’ limited budgets since, officials said, the money can be spent on drug enforcement, overtime, training and other public safety items.

“It puts us in a position where we don’t have to put those things in our budget,” Kane County Sheriff Pat Perez said.

Geneva Police Cmdr. Julie Nash said, however, that asset forfeitures is not an area her department depends on.

“It is very unpredictable,” she said in an e-mail. “Therefore, it would not be fiscally responsible to count on something that cannot be guaranteed.”

Indeed. Kintz said the $20,000 seizure was unusual for St. Charles. Credit goes to the officer who stopped the vehicle for not having a valid registration, he said.

“That was a tremendous job on the officer’s part to notice that,” Kintz said.

Perez and other officials said law enforcement agencies are limited to seizing money from drug arrests until a Cook County court case that challenges the legality of vehicle seizures is finalized.

Before that case, Perez said, the sheriff’s department also would generate money by selling seized cars and would add such vehicles to its undercover fleet.

Authorities generally confiscate money after finding it during the execution of a search warrant, Perez said. To get it back, he said, the owner has to prove in a civil proceeding that the money was obtained through legal means.

“If they can’t do it, the money is awarded to us,” Perez said. “It’s very rare that anyone fights it.”

The purpose is to cripple a person’s ability to continue the illegal activities that generated the money, Perez said. He thinks the concept works, he said.

“If it doesn’t work, at least when these guys get out of prison they have to start from scratch,” Perez said.

Of the law enforcement agencies in the Tri-Cities, the Kane County Sheriff’s Office carries the largest balance of asset forfeiture funds. As of last week, its account generated from federal cases had $70,000 while its state drug enforcement fund had $69,000, Perez said.

In 2010, the Batavia Police Department’s drug fund had three asset forfeiture deposits totaling $3,427.97, Deputy Chief Dan Eul said.

The St. Charles Police Department’s fund increased from $16,030 to $39,483 between April 30, 2009, and April 30, 2010.

Its balance dropped to $6,690 after purchasing equipment last year, said Chris Minick, the city’s finance director.

Geneva, meanwhile, has not had any drug asset seizures in the last three years, Nash said.

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