Del. Senate Approves Transparency Involving Secretive Police Fun - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Del. Senate Approves Transparency Involving Secretive Police Fund

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DOVER, Del. (AP)- The Delaware legislature passed a bill Thursday that provides a better look at the inner workings of a secretive group that distributes money to police agencies from the sale of seized property.
    
The measure, which contains significant loopholes, was approved unanimously in the Senate after clearing the House last week and now goes to Gov. Jack Markell.
    
Although the bill makes the state's Special Law Enforcement Assistance Fund subject to Delaware's Freedom of Information Act, it also lets police agencies' applications for money stay secret while an oversight committee decides whether they're exempt from FOIA.
    
If the committee decides an application is not exempt, the police agency could withdraw it within 10 business days, keeping its intentions secret.
    
The SLEAF is a pot of money made from selling property forfeited to the government in criminal cases. The fund took in more than $1 million and disbursed almost $870,000 in fiscal 2015, according to the state Department of Justice.
    
Attorney General Matt Denn told lawmakers Thursday that more than $300,000 of that amount went to witness protection. Training and equipment, such as body cameras, also account for a significant amount of money disbursed by the committee, he said.
    
The SLEAF oversight committee is required to submit annual reports to state budget office and controller general regarding its finances, but those reports currently are considered confidential, Denn said.
    
Meanwhile, a Senate committee has yet to act on a separate bill that would eliminate the practice of civil asset forfeiture, in which police can seize property thought to be associated with criminal activity, even if the property owner has not been convicted - or even arrested - for a crime.
    
"Even if you think I'm a bad guy ...  if you're the government, you shouldn't be able to take my stuff until you can prove it," said bill sponsor Sen. Colin Bonini, R-Dover.
    
The Institute for Justice, a nonprofit libertarian public interest law firm, recently ranked Delaware's civil forfeiture laws among the worst in the country for failing to protect property rights while encouraging what it calls "policing for profit."
    
Bonini, who said civil asset forfeiture provides "a perverse incentive" for police agencies to seize property, called the effort to bring more transparency to the SLEAF is a "great first step."

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