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NYPD say database of how much cash they seize is broken

The NYPD has told a court that it can’t reveal what happened to money seized by its officers under civil forfeiture laws because its database is broken.

Responding to a freedom of information request in Manhattan Supreme Court, city attorney Neil Giovanatti said that the PD was unable to extract the information from its Property and Evidence Tracking System (PETS).

He added that technicians can’t even figure out how to back up the database, which cost the city more than $25.5 million in 2009.

‘That’s insane,’ Judge Arlene Bluth said repeatedly, according to Courthouse News.  ‘Do you want the Daily News to be reporting that you have no copy of the data?’ she added. ‘That deserves an expose in the New York Times.’

The NYPD (officers seen in Times Square) says it cannot reveal how much money has been seized from civilians because its $25.5 million database is broken and can’t be backed up

The claims came after lawyers The Bronx Defenders (two pictured left and right, with NY Councilman Ritchie Torres center) took the city to court demanding to know details

The claims came after lawyers The Bronx Defenders (two pictured left and right, with NY Councilman Ritchie Torres center) took the city to court demanding to know details

If the NYPD is genuinely unable to obtain the details, that would render investigations into, for example, cops inappropriately seizing and spending citizens’ cash, difficult to perform.

The startling – and according to critics completely unbelievable – admission came after law firm The Bronx Defenders began looking into the department in 2014.

They used the freedom of information law to request data on how much cash the NYPD had seized under civil asset forfeiture laws, and how it was spent, as well as property seized.

Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Arlene Bluth (pictured) said that the NYPD's claim - which an expert disputed - is 'insane'. The case will continue on December 12

Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Arlene Bluth (pictured) said that the NYPD’s claim – which an expert disputed – is ‘insane’. The case will continue on December 12

In response – and after a wait of 19 months – the NYPD gave them a paltry two hardcopy documents and a digital copy of the NYPD Patrol Guide, it was reported in 2016. 

Those documents said the cops had taken in more than $68 million in seized cash in the 2013 financial year.

But it didn’t give enough detail for Bronx Defenders, who then took the NYPD to court.

The Defenders claimed the PD ‘did not disclose the records sought, claim specific exemptions to disclosure, or certify that, after making a diligent search, it had determined that it does not possess the requested records.’

That lead to the department’s startling claim on Wednesday about the content of its expensive technology being inaccessible.

In 2012 James Onalfo, the NYPD’s chief information officer, wrote that PETS ‘has allowed us to completely digitize our evidence tracking process, which has … given us a clear view of the data in our system.’

But now the city claims that same database – created by Capgemini and running on a IBM z10 mainframe – has rendered the data inaccessible.

It’s a claim denied by Robert Pesner, a former chief enterprise architect for the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development and owner of computer consulting firm PC Dialogs.

‘Based on the information I have reviewed about the technical specifications of PETS’s hardware and software, it is my opinion that it is technologically feasible to retrieve much of the data sought from PETS by running queries directly on the underlying [IBM] DB2 database,’ he said.

The information he obtained was all in the public domain, The Bronx Defenders claimed.

The case will return to court on December 12, as another round of oral arguments are presented to the court. 


Civil asset forfeiture has been a feature of law enforcement in America since Colonial times.

But it was the signing of the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 by President Ronald Reagan that saw its use expand.

It was created with the intention of allowing illegally obtained money – by drug sales, for example – to be funneled back into the police force.

But its usage began to expand, such as the NYPD’s decision to seize the cars of drunk-drivers to discourage DUIs, or the LAPD seizing houses associated with drug dealers.

Critics say that because these are claimed in civil cases alongside the criminal ones, it becomes a second, extrajudicial punishment.

It’s also the suspect’s responsibility to show that their cash or property did not come from criminal enterprises, which can be difficult to prove, and expensive to take to court.

Worse, they say, assets can be seized from a suspect without a conviction or even charges being pressed.

That in turn has led to accusations of corruption and excessive use of the law to pad out departments’ budgets and pay for treats.

In 2014, police across the US seized $4.5 billion of civil assets, compared to $3.9 billion taken by criminals from American citizen in the same period, The Register noted.

As well as the civil assets seized in New York City, the NYPD is also able to share assets seized with other jurisdictions under the Equitable Sharing Program.

The NYPD received $14 million on top of its own seizures through the program in 2014. 

But the Department of Justice last week said that misuse of the system occurs, according to CNN, with Tennessee law enforcement spending $110,000 on catering from March 2014-March 2016.

The Obama administration attempted to scale back the civil asset forfeiture program, but current Attorney General Jeff Sessions this month moved to expand it.