Earlier this month, Dallas police shared a story on social media: At Love Field, a K9 tipped police off to a piece of luggage belonging to a 25-year-old Chicago woman. Within the luggage, the dog sniffed out some blankets and two bubble envelopes filled with more than $106,000 in cash. The woman was not charged with a crime.
Police seized the money, and what was intended as a feel-good story about a crime-fighting dog instead wound up spurring a whole lot of questions about civil asset forfeiture, the completely legal means by which police can take a person’s property if they believe it has been or will be involved in criminal activity.
At a meeting on Tuesday night, members of the Office of Community Police Oversight were among those of us eager to learn more about how the police department decides to take someone’s cash. The police department, which was happy to share images of its K9 sitting over stacks of money just a few weeks ago, didn’t have many immediate answers, said board member Brandon Friedman.
“As soon as everybody started asking questions, then they didn’t want to talk about it anymore,” he said. “Nobody could get any information from DPD about why this money had been seized.”
I asked the police department whether it had any policies regarding civil asset forfeiture and how much cash has been seized by Dallas police in 2021. I was told to submit an open records request.
Tonya McClary, director of the board, said that she has asked representatives of the police department and city attorney’s office to attend the board’s next meeting in January to give a formal presentation and answer questions about the issue.
Dallas police may have a process for someone to get their property back if they can prove its legal provenance. This was one of the questions members of the oversight board raised this week. Texas law gives the police broad leeway in deciding whether they can, in effect, take somebody’s stuff. How should the Dallas Police Department use that leeway?
A few months ago, McClary told the Dallas Morning News that her oversight board is “dedicated to making sure that the police department is more transparent.” Here is an issue that calls for more transparency.