HIBBING — The Hibbing Police Department seized nearly double the amount of property and nearly five times the cash involved in crimes in 2018 than the previous year.

Earlier this week, the Office of the Minnesota State Auditor released its annual asset forfeiture report showing that Hibbing police completed 31 forfeitures, up from 14 in 2017. Of those incidents, 15 involved cash and vehicles seized for controlled substance and 13 were DUI-related. The data shows when the property was sold but does not indicate when the crime occurred.

In 2018, gross sales of forfeited property or seized cash totaled $22,438. The net proceeds came to $17,617 after the HPD made payments to the State Auditor’s Office and St. Louis County Attorney’s Office, as well as local tow and impound bills. The local department took in $6,439 of gross sales and $3,565 in net profit the previous year.

On Friday, Hibbing Police Chief Steve Estey explained the state laws defining forfeiture as the process that an agency uses to seize property from an owner after someone is arrested, charged or convicted of a crime.

In Hibbing, this can happen when a person is arrested for DUI, DWI or fleeing a police officer in a motor vehicle. Officers can seize the vehicle and property inside and they can also seize cash during a drug arrest or raid.

Statewide forfeitures

The report from the State Auditor shows that law enforcement agencies seized 3 percent more property and 18 percent more cash in 2018 from the previous year. Seized items can include cash, firearms, vehicles and other property.

On Thursday, State Auditor Julie Blaha officially released the report at a Capitol press conference where she announced that 317 law enforcement agencies completed 8,091 forfeitures, an increase from 7,082 in 2017. About 61 percent involved vehicles seized after people were convicted of DUIs or DWIs. The state collected $8.3 million last year, roughly an 18 percent increase from the previous year.

“The most common asset forfeitures in 2018 were connected to driving under the influence and controlled substances,” Blaha said, according to a press release from her office. “DUI and controlled substance asset forfeitures accounted for 90 percent of the total.”

Hibbing’s police uses the cash locally

Overall, the HPD has a current annual budget of $3.5 million, which affords “everything from salaries to paper and pencils,” Estey said. The department has 27 officers and seven fully-marked vehicles, including a K-9 squad car.

The cash via forfeitures is being welcomed to help purchase equipment and spread the message of anti-drug awareness throughout the community.

For example, Estey described how officers were able to use some money to create informational drug awareness packets handed out to the public during last week’s National Night Out. He hopes that the cash can help the department pay for more equipment and one more car in the near future.

“Every little bit helps if it makes the community safer,” Estey said.

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