Where do seized drugs go? Here’s what happens to evidence, assets after a bust
YAVAPAI COUNTY -- Local law enforcement agencies say meth is on the rise again. There have already been several large drug busts in Yavapai County just this year. Thursday, Prescott Valley police officers found 52 pounds of meth during a traffic stop on Interstate 17.
As agencies conduct these busts, it begs the question: What does law enforcement do with seized evidence and assets?
The short answer: it depends.
According to Nate Auvenshine, a commander with Partners Against Narcotics Trafficking, seized drugs will typically be stored in evidence while a case is being adjudicated.
“How long it’s in evidence depends on the county attorney,” Auvenshine said. “They can be in there up to 10 years.”
Agencies then have to wait for the seized drugs to be authorized for destruction. Typically, they’re incinerated, he said.
“There are a couple different places to get incinerated,” Auvenshine said. “DPS has an incinerator in Flagstaff, there are some in the valley as well.”
Clarkdale Police Chief Randy Taylor said drugs that come into his agency’s possession usually come from either drop boxes – where citizens can turn in their unused drugs for destruction – or drugs they’ve seized during a criminal investigation.
“In either case, the drugs are destroyed through a disintegrator,” he said. “We have used both the one behind the (Cottonwood Public Safety) building and one in Camp Verde. When the drugs are evidence in a criminal case, we hold on to the evidence until the case has been adjudicated and all appeal processes have expired.”
Jerome Police Lt. Russell San Felice said drug paraphernalia is trashed or crushed. Another officer will videotape the process, he said.
Combustible items, he said, are burned in a slag pile in Jerome.
Drug items are taken to an incinerator to ensure they’re properly destroyed.
“If it’s a chemical-based product, you need to dispose those properly in the incinerator,” he said.
According to Auvenshine, there are occasions where seized evidence is used for training purposes.
“The majority of K9s are trained in the big four: marijuana, meth, coke and heroin,” he said.
One problem agencies are facing is training K9s in fentanyl because of the deadly nature of the drug for both the animal and the handler.
“The odor itself isn’t the risk,” he said. “If the packaging has a hole in it, the dog could be exposed.”
That’s why some agencies are making synthetic versions of the drug to help train the K9s.
In 2017, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill tightening restrictions on the state’s asset-forfeiture policies, expanding the burden of proof.
The reforms came at a time when civil-asset forfeiture laws were criticized by both Republican and Democrats, calling the system a “police for profit” model.
The new law implements oversight on forfeiture spending and law enforcement agencies are now required to submit a request to the county for Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) funds. The law also bans law enforcement from transferring seized property that amounts to more than $75,000 over to a federal agency.
Auvenshine said these new restrictions haven’t affected PANT too much at a street level.
While operating under probable cause, Auvenshine said law enforcement isn’t the deciding factor in what assets are seized.
“We submit a request to see if they meet the standard,” he said. “If not, the assets are released back to the owner.”
For the most part, Auvenshine said, if there is a question on whether or not assets can be seized, he’d rather just “walk away” and err on the side of caution.
“For instance, let’s say you have a small amount … five to eight thousand in cash, while it’s somewhat unusual to have five to eight thousand in cash, beyond that, there is no evidence those proceeds are from a criminal offense. While suspicious, we likely won’t seize it.”
Firearms, Auvenshine said, are always seized because possession of a firearm during a drug offense is an offense in itself.