A new agreement requiring the New York Police Department to change how it handles property seized during arrests likely will hasten the return of cellphones, cash and other items, the Wall Street Journal reports. A judge approved a settlement on Monday of a federal lawsuit claiming the NYPD unconstitutionally keeps money and other property long after a case is resolved. “Each year thousands of New Yorkers lose their cash, phones, and other personal property because of the City’s unlawful policy and practice,” said the lawsuit.
The NYPD agreed to follow procedures for returning personal property, and to train its staff and conduct audits. The suit claims that reclaiming property is a persistent problem. In an informal survey, about half of the clients of the organization Bronx Defenders didn’t get a receipt for their property when they were arraigned, said Niji Jain, the lead plaintifffs’ attorney on the case. In fiscal year 2015, the NYPD made some $7 million in revenue from unclaimed cash and sale of property. Even if charges are dropped, getting seized property back is no easy task, Jain said. Those who were arrested, had charges dropped, and attempted to reclaim their property routinely were referred back and forth between the district attorney’s office and the police department, she said. Victor Encarnacion, a 37-year-old delivery truck driver, was arrested on drug charges in 2014 and had his iPhone seized as evidence. A judge dismissed the charges six months later and he and his lawyers made repeated attempts to get his property back. He retrieved his phone after the suit was filed in 2016.