If you’re looking for a used radar unit or police patrol car, then you’re in luck. The same goes for the flashing lights, too.
They’re all items sold after they’ve lost their usefulness. In some cases, becoming an owner is a matter of knowing where to look.
The Danville Police Department is one of hundreds of government agencies that use the website govdeals.com to sell surplus and confiscated items. Most of the items police use — uniforms, firearms, cars, etc. — have an estimated shelf-life for how long it should last. For example, pepper spray is one item police said is replaced constantly because of its short shelf life.
“Police vehicles get taken out based on mileage,” said Paul Deel, the quartermaster of the Danville Police Department, “and how much money is spent on routine maintenance.”
Once a police vehicle has been chosen to be sold, it is handed over to the public works department to handle the sale. For the current fiscal year, one police vehicle has been sold for $2,500, according to the city’s finance department. That doesn’t come close to covering the annual amount spent on repairs, however. Roughly $155,127 went to maintain police vehicles in the 2019 fiscal year.
Technology also is sold outside the police department’s view. When computers become outdated, the city’s information technology department determines what to do with them. They usually end up sold in bulk on govdeals.com, minus the hard drives. Technology such as body cameras and tasers are sent back to the companies that manufactured them.
Technology is replaced more often than any other item in the police department, said Deel, mainly because of upgrades.
In the 2019 fiscal year, Danville’s police received $7,627.49 in online auction proceeds. Most of it — $6,860.29 — was from the sale of 109 body cameras.
Police also sell their firearms, but not to the public. Danville’s police department auctions off its firearms to the highest bidding gun manufacturer, usually the same company that sold the department new firearms from.
“It’s the same vendor for the entire process,” Danville Police Department Lt. Richard Chivvis said.
The department also sells items seized in relation to the drug trade through a process known as civil asset forfeiture — this law allows law enforcement to seize property believed to have been involved in specific types of criminal activity. This property can be anything from cars to money and even houses.
“We can seize assets directly related to drug distribution,” Chivvis said. “For example, electronics or jewelry, but that’s pretty rare. Mostly cash and the occasional car.”
In Virginia, asset forfeiture is allowed mostly in cases of drug trafficking, money laundering, racketeering and felony theft, said Alexandria-based civil asset forfeiture lawyer David B. Smith.
“It’s mostly used in drug cases in Virginia,” Smith noted.
Money made from the sale of surplus and seized property goes to two separate funds. The first is the city general fund — a fund that collects all the proceeds from every department auction — and is used to keep the police from gaining a deficit when buying supplies.
“It’s used to offset the cost of the cost of replacement items,” Chivvis said. “Like in the case of our firearms.”
The asset forfeiture fund is money made from the sale of seized assets, and is mostly used to cover the cost of equipment or training. The police department manages this fund with oversight from the state.
The fate of police uniforms is much easier to pin down. More money was spent on new uniforms — roughly $166,000 — in the 2019 fiscal year than on car repairs.
Uniforms are used until they become stained, torn or unusable. Such police-specific identifiers as patches are removed before the uniforms are destroyed.
“They are taken to the local landfill,” said Chivvis. “They dig pits for them, they’re thrown in and covered up.”
Avent is a reporter with the Danville Register & Bee. Reach him at (434) 797-7983.