City Hall

Dallas Finally Moves Forward on Police Staffing Study After Civil Forfeiture Fight

Dallas pushed back against civil forfeiture Wednesday.
Dallas pushed back against civil forfeiture Wednesday. Illustration by 355A
Fifteen months after deciding that Dallas and its police department needed a study to figure out just how bad the department's attrition and staffing woes are, the City Council signed off on funding for the survey Wednesday. The cash didn't come without a fight over one of its sources — civil asset forfeiture.

Had the council signed off on funding the study as initially proposed by city staff, $250,000 of its $500,000 estimated cost would've come from money confiscated by the federal government and made available for the city's use. Money seized through civil asset forfeiture comes from people or enterprises suspected of being involved in illegal activity. Often, the money is not returned to the person or entity from which it was taken, even if the person is found not guilty or never charged with a crime.

Dallas City Council member Philip Kingston led the charge against the city using forfeiture funds Wednesday.

"I am distressed, very distressed, that I cannot support this staffing study because one of the sources of funds for this staffing study is civil asset forfeiture funds — money taken from people who have, in some cases, not even been charged with a crime yet, but certainly not convicted of a crime — people who will ultimately be found not guilty. Their property is being confiscated and used to fund this study, and that's immoral," Kingston said. "Stealing money from U.S. citizens to fund a staffing study 15 months after we've declared an emergency — if I'd have put this item on the agenda I'd be embarrassed."

“If we are getting our morality from the federal government, I don't know what we're doing. That’s not a good way to stay out of hell.” — Philip Kingston

tweet this
Kingston found support from a majority of his fellow council members, all of whom said they supported the study, which will be carried out by KPMG.

"I know we needed the staffing study — we needed it yesterday — but I'm very concerned about the source of funds," Sandy Greyson said.

Adam McGough, the chairman of the council's public safety and criminal justice committee, said that the money set to go to the study from the federal government had been seized according to state and federal law. If the city wanted to look at how it uses seizure funds later, he said, that was fine, but it shouldn't delay the study. 

"Time is of the essence for a number of reasons, and I think we've done everything we're supposed to under the law to make this appropriate," McGough said.

Kingston responded to McGough and others on the council who repeated the line that using civil asset forfeiture funds was allowable under federal law by pointing to recent federal actions including using tear gas on migrants at the California-Mexico border.

“If we are getting our morality from the federal government, I don't know what we're doing," Kingston said. "That’s not a good way to stay out of hell.”

With it made clear that a majority of the council would not vote the study forward were it to be paid for with forfeiture cash, members accepted a compromise from outgoing Pleasant Grove representative Rickey Callahan to pay for it out of city reserve funds. McGough's public safety committee will also review the city's ongoing use of forfeiture funds.
KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young