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Crime and Courts

New Website Intended To Increase Transparency Around Asset Forfeiture In Kansas

WCN 24/7, flickr Creative Commons

A new website tracking property seizures by Kansas law enforcement went live on Monday.

The Kansas Bureau of Investigations established the Kansas Asset Seizure and Forfeiture Repository as part of a 2018 law aimed at increasing transparency around the tool known as civil asset forfeiture.

Property that police think is connected to a crime — such as illegal gambling, or the sale of drugs — can be confiscated, whether or not a conviction is made. The new law requires all law enforcement agencies in Kansas to submit data each time an asset is seized.

The KBI says "reports are required to be submitted within 60 days of final case action so the website likely won't have reports coming in for awhile yet." An annual forfeiture funds report will also be filed next spring.

The reports will include information on the agency, where and when the property was seized, a description of the property and its worth, and whether or not criminal charges were filed.

State Rep. Gail Finney of Wichita served on the state advisory committee that studied asset forfeitures and helped craft the bill. She says the database will increase accountability, and decrease questionable seizures.

"It gives something for law enforcement to be able to point to exactly this is what happened, this is where it happened, this is how much it is," she says, "so that the public can see that what they are doing is above board.”

She says having a record will help both the public and law enforcement agencies.

"There has been a lot of questions around this for along time, not only just in Kansas but all over the United States," she says. "In my opinion, it's going to help improve our civil asset forfeitures in Kansas."

Several law enforcement officials, including Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter on behalf of the Kansas Sheriff's Association, testified in support of the bill when it went before state lawmakers last year.

Finney says she still wants to see other changes in the law that would require a conviction be made before property is seized and would return the property if someone is acquitted. None of the bills she has put forward in the Legislature have made it past committee.

"But I'm going to keep pushing for it because I think it's only just and fair," she says.

Follow Nadya Faulx on Twitter @NadyaFaulx. To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.