Police net $500K in drug busts

J. Jacob Edel
Mercer Island Reporter

Island police recently received about a half million dollars from the federal government for drug busts they helped investigate during the late 1990s. The department plans on spending $175,000 of it on some new equipment.

The department is also considering using a large chunk of the cash later this year to help fund the new Eastside regional dispatch center, called NORCOM. The City Council formally allowed the police to begin spending the money to replace some aging equipment last Monday. According to Operations Commander Dave Jokinen, the police will be acquiring new light bars for their patrol cars, new back seats, digital video recorders, digital ticketing and reporting machines and new evidence lockers at the station.

“Some of these have seen it all,” Cmdr. Leslie Burns said of the equipment inside the department’s patrol cars. “Some have been spit on, puked on. You name it.”

The new digital recording system will replace a VHS system that the department has in its six marked patrol units. The videos will now be recorded on DVDs, making it possible for superiors to later view what happened in the field from their office.

Funds for these items would otherwise come out of the city’s general fund. But in addition to updating and outfitting patrol cars, the police will use this “unique” opportunity to purchase infrared sensors on its patrol boat. The department plans to spend $25,000 on the infrared equipment and add specialized breathing equipment to use during lake fires.

“This will help us to locate people in the water and protect us when fighting marine fires,” Jokinen said. “We are one of the first responders for Lake Washington fires.”

Officers will also be getting new uniforms, holsters and radios as part of the spending.

The city received the money from the federal government last September for seizures made by the Eastside Narcotics Task Force and a full-time Island investigator who focused on drug crimes. The Island investigator would seize assets such as bank accounts, investments and personal or real property obtained from illegal drug sales. The money obtained from these seizures was originally prompt and funded the position.

However, the investigator increasingly worked with federal agencies and federal reimbursements for the Island officer’s contributions, which became more and more delayed. The position could no longer fund itself without timely reimbursements and the city cancelled the position several years ago.

This summer, however, the Internal Revenue Service notified the city that it would be receiving its share of funds seized in 2001 for work their investigator contributed.

The department also received insurance money last year to rebuild its main patrol vessel after it sank in January 2007. The city used the funds it had been saving for the rebuild to add another boat to fleet.

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