The Shelby County Sheriff's Office (SCSO) and the Memphis Police Department (MPD) are the two biggest spenders of money from seized assets in the state, according to figures from The Washington Post.
Since 2008, Tennessee law enforcement agencies have spent about $37.5 million from cash or property seized under federal civil forfeiture laws, according to the report.
The newspaper said police agencies don't give a lot of details on how they spend the money from seized assets. They most often categorize this kind of spending as "other."
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The SCSO tops Tennessee's list with more than $5.3 million spent in proceeds from assets police suspected were linked to crime. More than $2 million of that was spent in the "other" category, the report says. The office spent more than $1.6 million of the money on electronic surveillance and more than $1.4 million on building improvements.
"We cannot speak for the accuracy of The Washington Post report regarding other agencies or rankings for the years 2008 through 2012," read a statement from the SCSO. "However, it would not surprise the Shelby County Sheriff's Office to know that it has seized more assets with its federal partners than other agencies in the state during that time."
The SCSO says officers seize drugs, weapons, currency, vehicles, and sometimes funds from accounts linked to criminal activity. Some of these items, such as cars and weapons, are sold through auctions.
The statement says the sheriff's office spends the money "wisely" and noted it saved federal funds over a span of years to purchase the building that houses the Multi-Agency Gang Unit and the Narcotics Unit. As far as the "other" category, the SCSO says that money is typically spent on vehicles for officers.
"Not only do these funds greatly assist the Sheriff's Office in the ongoing battle to keep drugs out of our community," the statement says, "the use of those funds means our taxpayers do not have to pay for the vehicles, equipment, and other tolls purchased by those funds."
Since 2008, the MPD has spent more than $4.7 million that it got through seized assets. The department spent 40 percent of that money — about $1.9 million — on salaries and overtime. It spent about $1.3 million on communications and computers and about $1.2 million in the "other" category.
MPD failed to respond to questions about this story by press time.
Rounding out the top five on the Tennessee list are the Metro Nashville Police Department ($3.8 million), the Tennessee Department of Safety ($3 million), and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation ($2.1 million).