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Drug money boon for cops

Special Photo. Suwanee Police Capt. Cass Mooney exhibits the department's latest crime-fighting vehicle, a futuristic, three-wheeled transporter called an Xtreme Green Sentinel.

Special Photo. Suwanee Police Capt. Cass Mooney exhibits the department's latest crime-fighting vehicle, a futuristic, three-wheeled transporter called an Xtreme Green Sentinel.

SUWANEE -- Denizens of Suwanee parks now have a space-age police chariot among them.

The Gwinnett County Police Department boasts what's been called the premier explosive device response vehicle in Georgia, the Bomb Truck.

And Lawrenceville police, long cramped in a dingy former Ford dealership, are settling in to a $7.7 million headquarters with room to grow for decades.

All these upgrades have a common benefactor: dirty money.

In a continued irony, proceeds seized from drug traffickers and other criminals has paid, at least in part, for several key improvements Gwinnett police agencies say strengthen their effectiveness in thwarting crime.

Channeling drug money to police is nothing new, and it's difficult to determine if recent drug cartel activity and subsequent arrests in metro Atlanta has translated to a windfall for police.

"I would predict that the monies seized tend to ebb and flow, depending on the types of cases and prosecutions being made," said Gwinnett police spokesman Cpl. Brian Kelly.

But forfeiture funds are vital to police departments trying to accomplish specific goals, such as purchases of firearms or alcohol-detection equipment. Kelly said funds are processed through the court system and can't be indiscriminately added to an operating budget for general purposes.

Suwanee police on Thursday unveiled the latest of their crime-fighting tools bought with forfeiture funds -- a futuristic, electric-powered, three-wheeled transporter called an Xtreme Green Sentinel.

The $9,000 multi-terrain vehicle will be used to patrol trails, parks and special events. It can reach speeds of 29 mph and run for 80 miles on a single charge, said Suwanee police Capt. Cass Mooney.

Suwanee police tested a two-wheel Segway transporter during a pilot program last fall but decided against buying one, city spokeswoman Lynne DeWilde said. Comparatively, the Segway maxed out at 12 mph, she said.

The issue of safety in public spaces came to light last year when three female patrons reported attacks in Suwanee parks.

When Gwinnett police unveiled their Bomb Truck last week, officials noted that $200,000 of the half-million dollars spent to custom build the vehicle came from money seized in a federal drug task force they participate in. A federal grant covered the remainder.

In June, dignitaries at the grand opening of Lawrenceville's new headquarters literally thanked Georgia's drug kingpins for their $1 million contribution to the structure, which is six times the size of the department's old digs.

Kelly pointed out that forfeiture funding is sourced from all illegal activity, not just drug sales. Some agencies also put seized property such as vehicles into service, or auction them off for proceeds, he said.