How QueTel helped Tampa PD's Forfeiture Unit go paperless, saving time and money

QueTel’s software has allowed the Forfeiture Unit to rid itself of redundant procedures, to be paperless and function smoother than it ever has

This article was provided by QueTel

By Brian Carpenter, Detective (Ret.) Tampa Police Department

It didn’t happen, but I got it started and it’s going now.  Our Forfeiture Unit at the Tampa Police Department handles felony related forfeitures, but mainly drug seizures. We operated under the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act as stated in Florida State Statue 932.701-7062.  Since the 1980’s, the unit manages the process of legally obtaining ownership of vehicles determined to have been involved in illegal distribution of controlled substances.

TPD’ seizures are largely vehicles, but also valuables, currency, and sometimes other property such as planes and RV’s.  In recent years, as the legislators became aware of abuses committed by some departments in such seizures, the process needed to be carefully handled and each step documented—from officer seizure to court room trial.

The process was set up in the 1980’s and involved fully manual steps, lots of paper, and extensive files.  In 2014, I inherited the process and very soon began to realize that just doing what my three predecessors had done was not the way I wanted to spend the last four years of my career. 

A forfeiture investigator would inspect all impounded vehicles from the previous day. He would look for ownership paperwork, notate any damage and classify the condition of vehicle (good, fair and poor). From there he would go back to the office and create a case file. He would transfer his notes to another piece of paper in the folder. Each file contained a vehicle condition sheet, a copy of the report, booking sheets, driver license sheets, photos of the vehicle, and prior forfeiture cases. This information was also entered into a deteriorating database and because of the lack trust in the database, there was also a logbook for all of the files. All of these files were kept in a cabinet in another room so we all would have access to them, unless, the attorney needed the file, then he kept those in his office. The secretary also kept some of the files on her desk so she could file the court documents for the attorney. Occasionally, the investigator or I would keep a file or two on our desk.

If the owner or his attorney called a message was taken and put in my basket. Either the investigator or I would take the message, locate the file (in one of five places) and read the updated report within the Report Management System (RMS). We then called the owner and would try, most often would, to reach an out of court settlement agreement. The owner would agree to pay a tow fees, an admin fee, a Law Enforcement Trust Fund fee (LETF) and we would waive all storage. All of those documents would also go into the case file. So, by now the case file is an inch thick.

If we did reach an agreement with the owner/attorney within five days, we would send a probable cause affidavit to a judge for review. We then had 45 days to decide to file for forfeiture or send the vehicle to auction. This decision was based on the strength of the case, charges, owner’s history of forfeiture, maintaining the vehicle while being held, value of the vehicle, against the cost of the forfeiture trial. All of the forfeiture attorney’s paperwork would also go into the case file. We only went to a forfeiture trial about 8 times a year. These files would be almost four inches thick.

Once an agreement was reached or the forfeiture was over the case file was no longer needed and could be filed away in a box. Those boxes were retained for seven years. Before I took over there were thirty to forty boxes a year.

I faced the challenges of funding and no available product on the market to suit the needs of the unit. Our current computer program had also outlived its effectiveness and had reached a point where it was unrepairable. So, I began thinking through how we could streamline our processes, get rid of the paper and find a new system.

We came up with a general outline of automated procedures and working with my colleagues in the project management section of the department, we defined what was needed and worked on developing the requirements.

My predecessor had tried to get a new system and was able to get a few RFP’s. The needs of other departments in the city took precedence and our request feel through the cracks and was forgotten. With the usual speed of the procurement, the process took three years before we were able to overcome disbelief in other parts of the City to put an RFP on the street, select vendor, and finally bring on a software company to help us implement.  The cynicism grew out of some other software development projects that had been a failure.  However, with the persistence of our management we were finally able to bring on QueTel Corporation, with its wide experience in law enforcement software, to build the system that we envisioned.

While I didn’t get to see the changes that we began four years ago, before I retired, I am happy to say that it has been successfully wrapped up since I left and is working like a charm.  After nearly 25 years as an officer, I must say that it’s a really good feeling to have been able to say that I was able to help implement changes that have had a fundamental difference in the way the department handles this complex process. QueTel’s software has allowed the Forfeiture Unit to rid itself of redundant procedures, to be paperless and function smoother than it ever has.

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