The Norman Transcript

Opinion

July 24, 2013

Cash seizure contract raises lots of questions

NORMAN — An Oklahoma prosecutor’s use of a private, for-profit business to train and help conduct drug busts along an interstate highway raises some significant issues that lawmakers or the attorney general ought to investigate soon.

The company gets a percentage of the suspected drug money seized from vehicles. The take is 25 percent if they are involved and 10 percent if it is seized by the DA’s investigators the company trained.

The Oklahoman and The Duncan Banner have reported on District Attorney Jason Hicks’ contract with Desert Snow. Mr. Hicks, the DA in Stephens, Caddo, Grady and Jefferson counties, has put the program on hold until he can further study the issue. A judge in the county also has been critical of the program.

Mr. Hicks told The Duncan Banner that instructors with Desert Snow were commissioned as investigators by his office. The training helped seize marijuana, cocaine and about $1.3 million from suspected drug traffickers stopped on Interstate 40 in Caddo County.

We’ve often questioned the interstate interdiction efforts of many agencies. Critics say law enforcement tend to stop more vehicles loaded with cash than those loaded with drugs. Agencies often share in the cash once a case has been adjudicated. The money is usually forfeited, too.

We suggest Mr. Hicks seek an attorney general’s opinion or legislative guidance on the matter.

District attorneys are all strapped for cash these days. Fewer people write checks, so programs such as insufficient check restitution collections that used to provide a good source of revenue have all but gone away in many counties.

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