September 20, 2012 |

Shared asset funds will upgrade police equipment

By JAMES EIK

Staff Reporter

Airway Heights' police department will benefit from a total of $271,105.62 in shared assets from a 2010 investigation, working with the Washington State Patrol and the FBI.

Agencies investigated reports of stolen metal from Dickson Recycling, in North Spokane, and through an asset sharing agreement, received 25 percent of the $1.2 million total asset value collected from a series of raids.

Officers found the company wasn't abiding by state law when issuing money for recycled materials, and was purchasing stolen copper wire marked for tracking by the FBI, obtained from the Department of Energy. Airway Heights became involved through surveillance on Inland Asphalt, which led to the Dickson case. Airway Heights' Detective Kelly Justice took on a large part of the investigation, which cumulatively lasted for nearly a year, broken into separate pieces.

State law requires that businesses with any transaction amount over $30 is held for three weeks, and then is sent in the mail if that company doesn't have a business license. Justice said Dickson was allowing people without business licenses to come in and be paid on the spot for the copper wire.

“A lot of the criminals who were stealing wire, it provided a safe haven for them to sell their wire, being undetected,” he said.

Airway Heights police chief Lee Bennett wasn't considering receiving funds from the investigation. After it went through the courts and the total amount from the seizure was calculated from sales, Airway Heights received its share.

“We didn't expect we'd be getting asset sharing,” he said. “The FBI didn't have to do it.”

The case marked the first time the police department collaborated with the FBI on a case of this scale.

The money received will have a specific purpose in the department, helping to upgrade several items. At the Sept. 24 work session, Bennett will be proposing the purchase of three new patrol vehicles, which cost around $45,000 each. The cost stems from outfitting it with computers, equipment and other requirements for patrol.

Duty weapons for officers will also be replaced, and threat-level entry vests when responding to active shooters are on the docket. In addition, the department is looking to purchase new Tasers for officers, having used the M26 model since its initial debut.

“It was the first Taser model to come out,” Bennett said. “We're going to petition Council to allow us to replace our old Tasers with the brand new model coming out.”

The total for all of the items comes in around $194,000.

“It has to be used to combat crime,” Bennett said. “So every time we get seizure, other than drug-related money, then you have to use it to combat crime.”

The Airway Heights police department is also serving as the lead agency on a series of prostitution spa raids in the Spokane area earlier this year. That case is in the process of being adjudicated, and will continue moving forward.

Bennett said the total received from the 2010 case will go a long way in helping the police department, considering it was done to help other agencies in the area.

“When we did the Dickson recycling (case) I thought it was nice we were able to help out another agency,” he said. “Then you hear you're going to be part of this equitable asset seizure sharing.”

Bennett praised the cooperative efforts between numerous agencies in the Spokane area, from the city of Spokane, Spokane County, IRS and others involved. The amount of support between them and other cities in the region, he said, is tough to find anywhere else.

That collaboration, Bennett said, provides a strong network throughout the Inland Northwest, making it difficult for criminals to continue working from one city to another.

“Agencies within Spokane County work very well together,” he said.

James Eik can be reached at james@cheneyfreepress.com.

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