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Friday, March 10, 2017

Police trying to determine who owns interest earned off seized drug cash

Halifax Regional Police seeking outside help to figure out what to do with the $12,400 in accumulated funds.

Posted By on Fri, Mar 10, 2017 at 1:34 PM

click to enlarge Police chief Jean-Michel Blais (right) and deputy chief Bill Moore address the board of police commissioners last week. - THE COAST
  • Police chief Jean-Michel Blais (right) and deputy chief Bill Moore address the board of police commissioners last week.

The cops don’t want it, but what to do with it and who owns it is proving difficult to figure out.

Halifax Regional Police has generated $12,378 over the last four years by depositing seized drug money into an interest-bearing bank account.

Last year’s Drug Exhibit Audit recommended that practice stop immediately—and the funds be transferred to a non-interest account—because the cash doesn't belong to HRP.

“It was the Audit team’s position that the police should not make a profit from seized cash that was deposited in the bank account as it’s not our money to make a profit from,” writes HRP spokesperson Theresa Rath Spicer in an email.

While no new deposits are being made, nine months later the account is still collecting interest and the question of what to do with its money is in limbo.

“Given that this was an interest-bearing account and interest did accrue, we need to determine the most appropriate way to deal with that interest and have been seeking external advice as part of this process,” says Rath Spicer.

The dollar amounts being talked about here are largely small, but it does create a tricky situation for the department when it comes to who decides how to spend that money; or what to do if any of its previous owners who were found innocent come looking for their dividends.

Interest-bearing accounts for seized cash aren’t uncommon in other police departments, according to evidence control expert Joseph Latta, but they’re usually handled by city hall’s finance teams and not sworn officers.

Latta is executive director of the International Association of Property and Evidence (IAPE), the standard-bearer for evidence control in the policing industry that HRP cites multiple times in its drug audit reports to demonstrate the department’s own shortcomings.

All that cash collected by police has to be parked somewhere, he says, and so the city might as well make some money off of it. But a police-managed fund is a little more unusual in his experience.

“I say, put it in an interest-bearing account, let the city manage it,” says Latta. “I don’t think the police department needs to even get involved in if the person gets their money back.”

The Special Enforcement Section bank account was opened in 2012, in part as a way to prevent large quantities of cash from sitting around police headquarters where it would be at greater risk of being stolen. According to documents presented last week to the Board of Police Commissioners, an initial bulk deposit of $267,263 was made to the account in September of that year.

Police chief Jean-Michel Blais told the board that the bulk deposit likely contains the nearly $5,000 in seized cash evidence that has gone missing from HRP custody. While the SES department kept a ledger of what went into the account, the initial bulk deposit consisted of a lot of old exhibits—often lacking proper documentation—making it impossible to know for sure where the missing cash has ended up.

Last summer, Criminal Investigation Division superintendent Jim Perrin told The Coast he expected HRM's auditor general's office would be stepping in to help to determine what to do with the bank account's accumulated interest.

The account was audited by Halifax police's review team over the last several months, says Rath Spicer, but the OAG hasn’t been involved.

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