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Posted: March 28, 2012 4:25 p.m.

Ga. police seizing more cash and property

ATLANTA (AP) - Police departments and law enforcement agencies across Georgia are increasingly using seized cash and property to upgrade their vehicle fleets, weapons and other equipment.

Seizures and the payouts from them have been growing, especially in Georgia, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported (http://bit.ly/a1eK ).

Georgia law enforcement agencies last year got nearly $30 million, up from $28.6 million in 2010 and $25 million in 2009.

The growth partly reflects an expansion of federal laws allowing seizure of cash or property -- called asset forfeiture -- used in the commission of crimes or acquired with ill-gotten gains.

The total amount of asset forfeitures in Georgia last year was $56 million, putting the state behind only New York, California, Florida and Texas.

Some people have concerns the practice puts too much emphasis on profit and could lead authorities to seize property from people who aren't even convicted or charged.

"There is no penalty on the government for seizing improperly," said Atlanta defense lawyer Don Samuel, who also teaches law students about asset forfeiture, "so there is no disincentive for a trooper to not seize the money."

But law enforcement officials say that seizing assets is a valid anti-crime tool with the added benefit of bolstering local and state resources. They say the growing amounts involved reflect the size and scope of cases, not a bigger emphasis on making seizures.

"If you know from the start that if you're caught, not only will you go to jail but you're not keeping the cash and the cars and the house, that, we hope, is more of an effective deterrent to committing crimes," said John Horn, the first assistant U.S. attorney in Atlanta.

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