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Local Police Search For Money After Losing Drug Tax

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DURHAM — Local police departments are trying to fill funding gaps created when the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional for North Carolina to tax illegal drugs. The court ruling said the tax created double jeopardy for the drug dealers.

While the tax helped pay for plenty of high-tech extras, it also kept additional money flowing into police programs.

Several departments may have fewer tools for a time. However, most say they will eventually find other ways to cash in on drug dealers.

The Durham Police Department used the tax money to buy a "Night Scope" and "Dark Invader." The high-tech, night-vision crime fighting tools cost a total of bout $16,000.

"When you're having drug complaints or whatever kind of complaints at night, [the night vision tools] give you an opportunity to set up somewhere in complete darkness, and without anybody knowing you're there, you can go ahead and film, view, whatever you want to do," Durham Police Capt. Dave Laeng said.

Durham police have used the drug tax money over the years for everything from cars to computers. Now they need to look elsewhere.

"It's certainly a setback for us across the United States, not just in the Durham police department," Durham Police Chief Theresa Chambers said.

Chambers says there are still ways to get assets out of drug dealers. If a case meets federal drug trafficking guidelines, local police departments can confiscate money, vehicles and property. If the DEA or the FBI approves, departments can then auction off drug dealer's possessions, or use their money for crime fighting.

The chief says the Supreme Court decision will not put any enforcement efforts out of business.

"It sure doesn't, and that's the message we want to send," Chambers said. "There are temporary setbacks. As court decisions change and Supreme Court decisions come out, we learn to adjust with them and we'll do fine."

Police are working to get around the ruling and so is the North Carolina General Assembly. Lawmakers are debating a bill backed by Attorney General Mike Easley that would lower the amount of the tax, and satisfy the federal court.

North Carolina leads the nation in drug tax collections, pulling in ten times as much as second-place Kansas.


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