Mercer County, N.J., has obtained video cameras for police squad cars, a library of mug shots every police department can use, and background checks on coaches, scoutmasters, and others who work with children via suspected and convicted criminals whose property has been confiscated and sold at auction, the Trenton Times reports. That system, which county law enforcement officials have used to generate extra cash for crime-fighting programs, is under attack on two fronts.
State officials want to be able to collect and dole out the money themselves. A defense attorney has filed a legal challenge, contending forfeiture laws are unfairly applied. In the past five years, Mercer County has gathered almost $3.3 million from selling forfeited property. Statewide, counties collected $8.2 million in 2003. The money has become a steady way of funding law enforcement officials’ wish lists. Forfeiture also is viewed as a crime-fighting tool. Defense attorney Robin Lord is battling the forfeiture program in court on behalf of two clients. She contends prosecutors seized pricey Mercedes Benz autos from two residents on the word of confidential informants by filing civil lawsuits without proof or charges of a crime.