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Seizures of cars, guns in 2013

State Auditor Rebecca Otto has released the criminal forfeitures report, which provides information on the amount of cash and property seized subject to forfeiture by Minnesota law enforcement agencies in 2013.

The amounts vary wildly, depending on the policies of individual agencies.

The Becker County Sheriff’s Office, for instance, seized just one thing in 2013, a 1996 Chevy pickup which sold for $350 and netted the county $123 after expenses.

The Hubbard County Sheriff’s Office made about $12,000 on sales of about $15,000, mostly vehicles involved in DUIs, chases or drug offenses.

The Detroit Lakes Police Department sold nine DWI-forfeited vehicles, all older models, including a 1998 Harley-Davidson motorcycle, receiving a total of about $7,500 on sales of $8,000.

By comparison, the police department in Coon Rapids, a northern tier Twin Cities suburb with a population of about 61,000, made about $60,000 on sales of over $70,000, including a half-dozen newer-model vehicles sold after being involved in DUI offenses.

The Minnesota DNR statewide confiscated 271 items, mostly guns, but also a snowmobile, a boat, an ATV and other items. The agency made about $124,000 on sales of $145,000.

The State Patrol seized more than 1,000 items under the law, mostly vehicles involved in drunken driving arrests. Many were released to owners, but many were sold, netting the agency just over $1 million, on sales of about $1.4 million.

Under Minnesota law, property associated with certain criminal offenses may be forfeited.

The state auditor’s report lists and summarizes forfeiture incidents after final disposition to let the public know what’s going on, and to keep lawmakers informed on the nature and frequency of property seized subject to forfeiture.

Highlights from the report include:

In 2013, 314 Minnesota law enforcement agencies reported a total of 6,955 incidents of property seized subject to forfeiture. This compares to 310 agencies reporting 6,851 incidents of property seized subject to forfeiture in 2012.

Of the 6,955 forfeiture incidents reported, 4,919 involved seized cash, property that was sold, or an agreement that required monetary compensation to the agency. 

The total value of net proceeds from these forfeitures was $6.9 million. Net proceeds derived from forfeitures ranged from $1 to $68,740.  Net proceeds per forfeiture incident averaged $1,408 in 2013.

Law enforcement agencies reporting 100 or more forfeiture incidents increased from 8 in 2012 to 10 in 2013.

In 2013, vehicles accounted for 58 percent of property seized, followed by cash at 28 percent, firearms at 13 percent, and other property at 2 percent.

The complete report, which includes an executive summary, tables and graphs, can be accessed at the Minnesota State Auditor’s Office website.

The wide differences in how law enforcement agencies approach the issue of seizing vehicles, guns and cash have a very real impact on those accused of crimes, and it can also have an impact on local budgets.

That’s why policy-making bodies, such as city councils and county boards, should get involved in this issue and not necessarily leave it to individual department heads to set policy.