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Police concerned changes in forfeiture law could impact drug investigations



Drug investigations may take a hit in La Crosse and elsewhere, depending on the outcome of a bill on the table in Madison.

La Crosse police have expressed concern over a measure that changes how property gets seized as part of a criminal investigation.

The new rules would mean things like guns, cars and cash only get forfeited by an accused criminal after a conviction.

The new rules would also direct all of the property seized by cops to go to the state school fund.

Currently, if the amount of money seized does not exceed $2,000.00, 70% of that amount goes to the school fund.  For amounts larger than $2,000, 50%  goes to the school fund..

That money–in some cases, thousands of dollars–is used to buy equipment for things like drug surveillance and testing, said La Crosse police captain, Jason Melby.

“We’ve got heroin, fentanyl and carfentanyl out there and in order to test these safely, we just purchased a couple of hoods for testing them so that none of the material can accidentally be exposed to any of the officers or employees in the police department,” Melby said.

Melby said the money seized from dealers also helps prevents taxpayers from having to foot the bill for that equipment.  And keeps more city tax revenue going towards other city needs.

The forfeited drug money is put into a separate fund for police to use for those expenditures.

Having the ability to have a fund like this and go out and buy the item using that fund is always a benefit,” Melby said.

Melby also believes the division of funds between police and schools right now is working.

“I just want to be perfectly clear, La Crosse police department doesn’t have any problem with the school fund.  It’s just that we believe the seizures of the drug funds help us do our job more effectively and efficiently,” Melby said.   

La Crosse police have seized tens of thousands of dollars in recent weeks from drug busts, including just over $30,000 from one alleged dealer alone.  

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