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Supervisors Tighten Hold Over Money From Special Drug Raid Fund

TIMES STAFF WRITER

San Diego County supervisors on Wednesday moved to exert greater control over the Sheriff’s Asset Forfeiture Fund, which holds cash that accumulates when law enforcement agencies sell cars, boats and other items seized during criminal investigations.

Supervisors rebuffed Sheriff John Duffy’s request that $450,308 in seized asset funds be used to buy computers to improve his department’s records management system. Supervisors instead set in motion a plan that would earmark $1 million in fund money for improved security at the county’s escape-prone jails.

Supervisor Susan Golding, who formulated the proposal, expressed “deep concern . . . and opposition” to Duffy’s request that the money be used to buy computers when the jails need “critical security improvements.”

“We need security measures at every one of our detention facilities,” Golding said. “We have the public to protect and too many jail breaks.”

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“It’s a choice between . . . computers . . . and sealing up the jail,” said Supervisor Brian Bilbray, noting that the proposed $1-million expenditure would help to correct “gross deficiencies” in jail security.

While Wednesday’s debate focused on whether the county should allocate $450,308 on new computers or $1 million for jail improvements, it also raised questions about who will control future fund expenditures. The Sheriff’s Department and the county’s criminal justice system, with approval of the supervisors, have spent $3.5 million in asset funds since the fund was established in 1986. But supervisors now need “greater input, if not control, over those funds,” Golding said.

Sheriff’s Department spokesman Sgt. Glenn Revell declined to discuss specifics of the supervisors’ vote. “The Sheriff’s Department and (supervisors) have a disagreement on what (fund) expenditures are appropriate,” Revell said.

The fund, which was authorized in 1985 by the federal government, will hold an estimated $2 million during the fiscal year beginning July 1, according to the Sheriff’s Department. County officials estimate that in coming years the fund will hold a cumulative total of $15 million to $20 million from the sale of seized assets.

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Golding’s plan, which won unanimous support from the board, calls for the county staff to prepare a list of the most-needed security improvements at the South Bay and East County jails. Supervisors will use that list at their May 22 meeting to determine which improvements should be funded before granting the sheriff’s request for new computers, Golding said after the board meeting.

In addition to the argument over who should disburse the money, Wednesday’s vote also raised the question of what the county can legally buy with the funds.

In the past, the money generally has paid for items related to the war on drug abuse. But “there is nothing that says clearly that (the funds) cannot be used” for jail security, according to County Counsel Lloyd M. Harmon Jr.

Federal guidelines that determine how the money is used “are open to interpretation,” Revell said.

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