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The Lancaster County District Attorney’s Office announces today the implementation of widespread changes in procedure and protocols regarding daily operations of the Lancaster County Drug Task Force.
District Attorney Heather Adams prioritized the Drug Task Force (DTF) upon being sworn into office in January, promising the public, community partners and municipal leaders that a thorough review would ensure that the Task Force will sustain operations as efficiently and effectively as possible for years to come.
The review process will not be without its challenges, but ultimately Drug Task Force will thrive as a robust and professional law enforcement unit arresting mid- to high-level traffickers in Lancaster County for years to come. DA Adams has repeatedly stated her commitment to the Drug Task Force, recognizing it as an integral piece of the overall protection of our communities.
While the review started in January, adjustments began in March with the appointment of a new, interim Officer in Charge (OIC) of the Drug Task Force. At the same time, DA Adams also announced collaboration between DTF and Lancaster City Bureau of Police’s Selective Enforcement Unit (SEU).
DA Adams has aimed for the Drug Task Force to become a more collaborative law enforcement partner in the region with our state and federal counterparts. The Drug Task Force has extended invitations to other outside agencies in this regard and conversations are happening with the Pennsylvania State Police and Drug Enforcement Administration, among others.
The procedural changes regard, in part, how evidence and seized money and assets are stored, who has access to those items, and safeguards under which they are kept. Generally speaking, accounting systems regarding seizures and evidence storage and inventory are undergoing overhauls.
“This review is ongoing, but we have already launched several initiatives and changes within the Drug Task Force to ensure unit-wide accountability,” District Attorney Heather Adams said this week. “Large-scale drug trafficking does not recognize municipal borders, and we want to be a partner with local, state and federal agencies to maximize all resources in protecting Lancaster County.”
The appointment of a new, interim OIC and the ensuing procedural changes also uncovered approximately $150,000 in seized cash that is currently considered unaccounted for. The funds were seized in drug investigations (initiated before DA Adams took office) that resulted in criminal charges. The funds would have been kept in a secured area at Drug Task Force headquarters.
Our office has referred the investigation of those unaccounted-for funds to the state Attorney General’s Office and stands ready to assist them in any manner, as requested. At the request of the AG’s Office, we will provide limited details about the investigation and what was found in our internal review of the missing funds.
We can say the following:
- The funds appear to have been seized during less than a dozen drug investigations - all in 2019 or prior - which resulted in charges. Some of those cases are pending; some have already been resolved in the court system. At this time, we believe the integrity of those investigations was sound and we do not expect prosecutions to be significantly impacted due to this discovery.
- The missing funds will not result in a loss to any municipality or contributor to the Drug Task Force. The funds were seized from individuals charged with drug trafficking.
- The safeguards now in place eliminate the possibility of seized funds being accessed without oversight and record.
We realize this could have a blemishing effect on the hard-working detectives whose mission is to rid our neighborhoods of poisonous substances and the traffickers who profit from addiction.
We disclose this finding to the public because we have a duty to be transparent. Additionally, we notified all defense attorneys with involved cases. We also corresponded with municipalities (whose annual financial contributions are essential to DTF’s existence) and will have additional conversations.
The discrepancy in funds was found on April 20 when the interim OIC conducted a review of contents in a secured, limited access area of Drug Task Force headquarters. DA Adams immediately assigned the Chief County Detective, Deputy Chief County Detective and a sergeant within the Lancaster County Detectives unit (none of whom have a role on DTF) to conduct an audit of both funds and evidence seized by the DTF.
The audit of cash was completed on April 23. DA Adams contacted the Attorney General’s Office on April 24 and referred the investigation due to a conflict of interest as the District Attorney of Lancaster County commands and oversees the Drug Task Force.
Here are some specifics regarding changes which have taken place or are ongoing with the DTF:
- Funds seized will now be held in a bank account, deposited on a regular basis, prior to order of forfeiture.
- A complete revamping of how evidence is stored, logged, transferred and destroyed.
- A one-way drop box will be used for cash when an authorized supervisor is not available.
- The secure area containing cash will be electronically auditable and monitored by camera.
- Annual audits of evidence seized will be performed by Lancaster County Detectives (with no role on the DTF).
We caution the public from judging any member or members of the Drug Task Force prior to the completion of the full investigation. There were a limited number of individuals who had authorized access to these funds. Misconceptions based on broad assumptions made prior to the completion of the investigation could be devastating for the DTF detectives – and police everywhere – who sacrifice their lives every day to keep us all safe. The cash seizures were associated with cases that were initiated prior to DA Adams’ administration, and we are confident that the safeguards and controls since implemented by DA Adams significantly mitigate the risk of this happening again.
“I am confident that with these ongoing changes in procedures, along with strong leadership and personnel – and a solidified long-term funding model – this can be the most effective Drug Task Force Lancaster County has ever had,” DA Adams said. “We aim to be a valuable partner in a national network of police officers devoting their careers to ridding neighborhoods of drug traffickers.”
MEDIA CONTACT: Brett A. Hambright, 717-295-2041; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @BrettHambright