Writer: Shelby Israel
Published September 6, 2023
While public safety departments across Metro Atlanta receive annual funding from local governments for operational costs, a portion of these agencies’ expenses are covered through local asset forfeiture.
A forfeited asset is property or currency that has been determined to be the benefit or proceed of a crime by a state superior court judge.
Once an agency is granted a forfeited asset, it is distributed among the law enforcement groups that participated in the investigation. Assets that are not currency are assigned a fair market value and may be liquidated through sales, such as on auction-based sites like GovDeals and PropertyRoom or through a Federal Firearms License holder.
State law requires departments to report annual asset forfeiture funds to the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government, a financial reporting database for local governments.
Alpharetta, Roswell, Dunwoody, Johns Creek, Sandy Springs and Forsyth County each reported a list of expenses covered by forfeited assets in the 2022 fiscal year to the Carl Vinson Institute.
Combined, the Roswell, Alpharetta, Johns Creek, Dunwoody and Sandy Springs police departments and the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office reported some $398,675 in expenses covered by forfeitures.
Milton Police Capt. Charles Barstow said the Milton Police Department initially did not provide an asset forfeiture report to the Carl Vinson Institute due to an oversight. The report has since been submitted, and it is pending approval by the institute as of publication.
Data shown from the University of Georgia Carl Vinson Institute of Government
Of the six Metro Atlanta agencies that have available reports, Roswell was the biggest spender, recording around $140,174 in expenditures covered by state forfeiture funds. Some of these expenses included training, employee travel, equipment and facilities.
The Dunwoody Police Department reported the lowest dollar amount of expenditures at $20,917, which covered training; law enforcement awards, museums and memorials; training; investigation; and facilities and equipment.
According to state law, local law enforcement agencies can use funds derived from forfeited assets “for any official law enforcement purpose at the discretion of the chief officer of the law enforcement agency receiving such distribution,” if the use does not replace other funds that have been appropriated for the purpose, or for salaries or rewards to employees.
Alpharetta provided a detailed list of expenses from its confiscated assets fund, including firearms, customized public safety Yeti cups and phone chargers.
Police departments can also cover specific types of training with forfeited asset funds. Roswell and Johns Creek offered its officers Brazilian jiu jitsu, which officials said is effective in reducing injury to suspects and officers during arrests.
“There's no difference in how we spend the money, whether it comes federally or locally,” Alpharetta police Lt. Andrew Splawn said. “But once we have the money, it can be spent on things like training, equipment, initiatives. In fact, much of our second floor is paid for with asset forfeiture money. We got a SWAT bus and some other high-dollar items that are typically hard to budget for.”
For aiding in federal investigations, local agencies can also participate in the Equitable Sharing Program, an asset forfeiture effort operated by the United States Department of Justice that allows assets or proceeds from federal crimes to be liquidated.
The Drug Enforcement Administration; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and the Federal Bureau of Investigation participate in the program. Local task forces that participate in investigations related to each federal branch are eligible to receive funds from assets forfeited from the crimes.
Many agencies employ officers on task forces that are related to the federal law enforcement branches, such as the high-density drug trafficking area or financial investigation teams.