Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Attorney General says Myrtle Beach police could buy gyrocopter with drug money, but city holds off on purchase

Myrtle Beach police won't be patrolling the skies this year.

Rather than spend $207,000 on a gyrocopter — a two-person aircraft that looks like the combination of a helicopter and a small airplane — the city plans to put that money toward a mobile command center, city spokesman Mark Kruea said.

"That's on hold for the moment," Kruea said of the aircraft purchase.

The decision follows a recent opinion from the state Attorney General's office that says police could use seized drug money to buy a gyrocopter, but the city would violate state law by spending those dollars on fuel or maintenance for the aircraft.

Last month, city officials announced plans to buy the gyrocopter to help with drug raids, survey the area after natural disasters and search for missing swimmers in the ocean. They said the aircraft would also help police monitor large crowds, such as those expected to come to this week’s Bikefest.

The gyrocopter “would be a major benefit in enhancing our department’s ability to investigate and enforce illegal narcotic activities within our jurisdiction and outlying areas,” said James Battle, an attorney representing the police department, in a Jan. 20 letter to the state Attorney General’s Office.

Battle asked the AG if the city would violate state law by using drug money to purchase the aircraft, pay for pilot training as well as cover maintenance and fuel.

Although controversial, the civil forfeiture process allows law enforcement to seize money or property that authorities believe has been used in illegal activity. In some cases, money and items are taken from people who are not charged with any crimes.

However, police departments are limited in how that money can be spent.

In response to the city’s questions, Assistant Attorney General David Jones said in a May 17 opinion that a court would likely find money seized under the civil forfeiture statute could legally used to purchase a gyrocopter.

Jones said those dollars could also pay for training pilots and purchasing equipment. However, he said the cost of fuel and maintenance should come from the city’s general budget, not forfeiture money.

“These funds must not be used to supplant operating funds in the current or future budgets,” Jones wrote. “Expenditures from these accounts for an item that would be a recurring expense must be approved by the governing body before purchase.”

Jones added that even though the gyrocopter would be used for some police operations not directly tied to drug enforcement, that would not prohibit the city from buying it with forfeiture money.

He offered an analogy of a D.A.R.E. patrol car that had been purchased with drug dollars. Primarily, he said, the car would be used for community outreach to prevent drug use among children.

“If, however, a Category 5 hurricane devastated the county, or if a massive public event required a strong police presence to preserve order, it would be absurd to conclude that the General Assembly intended in such an ‘all hands on deck’ situation for that specific car to remain at the station while every other asset is in use,” Jones wrote.

Kruea said the city was aware of the attorney general's opinion, but officials thought the mobile command center was a more immediate need. The command center money is set aside for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Original article can be found here:

1 comment:

  1. yes, in many cases law enforcement steals property from innocent folks who are SUSPECTED, not convicted, or even charged with a crime, just SUSPECTED