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A bill passed last week by the Alabama Legislature to require law enforcement to report and track the seizures of property connected to drug dealing or other crimes should help reassure the public that law enforcement is using the tool of civil asset forfeiture in a responsible manner, said the Alabama District Attorneys Association (ADAA).
The bill adds to the Alabama Forfeiture Accountability System, which was created by district attorneys and law enforcement earlier this year to track and report on asset forfeitures in the state, said Barry Matson, the ADAA’s executive director.
“Alabama district attorneys, ALEA, chiefs of police, county commissions and sheriffs created the nation’s most comprehensive database for asset forfeiture,” Matson said. “We are excited to now have those progressive efforts codified into law.”
“In this bill, the district attorneys also sought the additional measure to publicly identify all asset forfeiture dollars and expenses by separating them into audited accounts with detailed individual line-items. This new measure will create unprecedented transparency that will identify the source and expenditures of all asset forfeiture monies.”
In a press conference in February, the AADA joined with state Rep. Arnold Mooney, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency and a wide range of public policy groups to announce the creation of the Alabama Forfeiture Accountability System. The new database system will track and compile data of all state civil asset forfeiture cases in Alabama and generate reports to lawmakers and state officials. It will also make information regarding the use of forfeitures available to the public.
Mooney co-sponsored a bill last year to require a data-reporting system, but the bill died at the end of the legislation session. This year’s bill was sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr.
“We began working on this last spring after some groups, based on misinformation, pushed legislation to gut civil asset forfeiture, even though it has proved to be an effective crime fighting tool,” Matson said. “We knew accurate information was needed regarding how often and under what circumstances asset forfeiture is used in Alabama, rather than the flawed and misleading, agenda-driving narrative that was being pushed out. This system will provide that information and, we hope, put to rest the fears of some people that asset forfeiture is being abused.”
On March 1, district attorneys across the state began collecting data related to asset forfeitures – including filings, pleadings and court rulings – and submitting that information to the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center database. Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center (ACJIC), a division of ALEA, is compiling the data and will make reports to the governor, lawmakers and the public. The University of Alabama’s Center for the Advancement of Public Safety created the AFAS database, which is operated by ACJIC.
Matson noted that the Alabama Attorney General’s Office, the Alabama Sheriffs Association and the Alabama Association of Chiefs of Police, as well as state and national organizations including the Alabama Policy Institute, the Institute for Justice, the Heritage Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), all contributed to the creation of AFAS.