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Local law enforcement agency says new bill would cripple drug enforcement programs

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CANADIAN COUNTY, Okla. - A new bill is coming under fire from some local sheriff's departments.

Critics say the bill would cripple drug fighting programs across the state.

Over the years, K9 officers in Canadian County have seized millions of dollars in illegal drugs along I-40.

In turn, the sheriff's office has used money recovered from those busts to help fund numerous public safety programs.

However, that would come to an end if SB838 becomes law.

"This bill has the potential to kill drug interdictions in Oklahoma," said Undersheriff Chris West, with the Canadian County Sheriff's Office.

West says each year his department uses hundreds of thousands of dollars in drug forfeitures to fund crime fighting programs.

"It would be a big hit for the Canadian County Sheriff's Office," said West. "It's not just about money. It truly is a public safety issue."

"The argument that this will hurt drug enforcement is misguided," said Sen. Kyle Loveless, the bill's author.

Loveless says out of the billions of dollars that were taken with civil asset forfeiture on the federal level, only 20 percent of those seizures led to convictions.

"Innocent people's property is being taken without due process and that's wrong," said Loveless.

Loveless' bill would move the proceeds from forfeited property away from local law enforcement and into the state's General Revenue Fund.

"What it would do is take away the financial incentive for abuse," said Loveless.

"This is without a doubt the single worst, most damning piece of legislation I have seen for drug enforcement," said Sheriff Randall Edwards. "This bill, if passed, will set the war on drugs back twenty years and will literally allow drug traffic to go unchecked in Oklahoma, the drug dealers and cartels will love it!"

The sheriff said without these funds, his department and many others would not be able to afford to work drug interdiction.

"The State has not paid a penny of my drug interdiction program, I don't know why they or anyone else in their right mind would think the state would be entitled to my agencies proceeds from these seizures," Sheriff Edwards said. "The proceeds Kyle Loveless is proposing to take, funds close to half of my cash funds, funds that support all my public safety programs, ranging from investigating on-line child sexual predators, to supporting nine K-9 Units and four full time drug interdiction units.   These drug funds also account for a large part of my agency's equipment, cars, radars, cameras and a multitude of other public safety equipment that Sheriffs will no longer be able to buy, as well as the jobs that are paid for and funded through these cash funds, I just paid for two motorcycles to work traffic control in school zones, paid entirely with seized drug money."

Loveless says his bill does not give the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics, Department of Public Safety or OSBI an exemption from the change.

The bill will be studied this fall and then be taken up during the next legislative session.

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