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New civil asset forfeiture law changing the way police profit from seizures

BETTENDORF - Civil asset forfeiture is a law that allows police to take and keep items from people accused of committing a crime, even if they are not convicted.

"Taking people assets doesn't help them convict someone I think when the law was first conceived it was to make sure that people couldn't profit," said Veronica Fowler, Communications Director ACLU .

Iowa lawmakers just passed a new law requiring seized cash or property to be returned, if valued at less than $5,000 and there's no conviction.

"I can't remember a case where we've seized property that there wasn't a charge," said Chief Phil Redington, Bettendorf Police Department.

Tasers, a rescue vehicle and the first K-9 dog for the Bettendorf Police Department were all purchased with money from seizures.

"We look at it as items that are needed that aren't budgeted for and a fund that we can spend the money from that's not coming from our citizens through taxes," said Chief Redington.

In 2016, Iowa had 822 cases of cash forfeiture totaling $2.6 million dollars, according to  Legislative Services Agency, the new law was backed by republicans who though police were over-stepping their boundaries.

"We've read the stories where somebody's driving down the highway, they have some cash, a student their tuition money, that person is stopped and their money is taken without any kind of conviction for a crime," said Fowler.

The ACLU said the new law is a step in the right direction but want to see it go a step further.

"These are abuses that we are glad some of these will be minimized with this new law but the law needs to go further," said Fowler.

Bettendorf police said the new law isn't going to affect them too much.

"The seizures that we have are above and beyond why we work the case to begin with, so it will change the fact that we won't be able to seize the smaller amounts but that's not an issue for us," said Chief Redington.

The new changes are aimed at police department solving crime, not generating money.