Jay Schenirer proves elected officials can actually ask where the money is going

Good looking out, Jay Schenirer

The Sacramento City Council member with the tough-to-spell last name was on the ball last night, despite a light agenda and recent overseas vacation. (Nice tan!)

Finding a police department plan to spend nearly $900,000 in asset forfeiture funds light on details, Schenirer asked officials to do a better job of itemizing their invoice before he would consider approving it.

The police department gets to keep a portion of the property and cash it seizes during the course of successful investigations. Last year’s haul of $559,451 in assets brings the department’s restricted (in terms of how the money can be spent) account to $1.26 million. A seven-page document submitted to council members suggests spending $896,865 from this account on replacing and repairing aircraft, equipment and software.

The largest proportion—$365,835—would fund anti-drug and gang programs.

Just what kind of programs?

Good question. Enter Schenirer.

“That’s more than we have in the city general fund to spend on those programs, so it’d be good to know what we’re spending it on, which programs, the effectiveness of those programs and how we’re measuring if they’re working or not,” he said.

It’s the kind of question that doesn’t get asked enough around these parts. (Why, the previous week, this very same council said nada regarding the $7.5 million loan it forgave the Crocker Art Museum. And that’s way more than 900 grand.)

Back to the forfeiture account, state law [specifically Health & Safety Code 11489 (i) and (ii)] says 15 percent of these monies have to be spent on drug- and gang-diversion, with a priority given to programs with a successful track record. It also says such efforts “shall wherever possible involve educators, parents, community-based organizations and local businesses, and uniformed law enforcement officers.”

The law’s intent is that police agencies don’t just keep circulating the funds internally, but actually put it into the community to, you know, help and stuff.

No one is saying the police department is trying to do the latter, but, as our old math teacher always commanded, show your work.

Aside from a detailed breakdown of how the money would be spent, Schenirer also wanted to know what had been purchased in the past and have a broader conversation about how the council’s priorities may have shifted since it last codified its public safety goals 23 years ago.

“Some things have not changed, but many have since 1990,” he added.

One thing that hasn’t gone out of style is the art of asking questions.

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