DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – A controversial vote Wednesday by the Dallas City Council decided, nearly unanimously, to give police the power to search individuals’ bank accounts if they believe someone is involved in significant criminal activity.

Through a memorandum of understanding, it allowed the DPD to be party to the U.S. Treasury Departments’ Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, where banks all over the country must report raw information of suspicious bank activities. Some transactions are mere coincidence, others can reveal a trail of what Police Chief David Brown calls, “Ill gotten gains.”

“This is a tool that will help us take down major drug organizations in our city,” Brown said as he acknowledged his department already has some limited access to through an existing joint federal task force…but that the feds primarily want high-level international dealers.   Brown claims the new agreement will allow his troops to focus on local rings through his newly-minted Money Laundering Unit.

“We’re asking for your approval for our detectives to expand its use for mid-level and street-level investigations that effect all of your districts,” he told the council.

The memorandum was discussed previously in a Public Safety Committee briefing.  Most council members supported it.  “And if you can take the dope houses down in my neighborhood… yesterday,” said Vonciel Jones Hill, “please take them down.”

There was push back from council members concerned that law-abiding citizens’ bank accounts could be examined based solely on an officer’s suspicions.

Waving a copy of the constitution, Lee Kleinman read its’ fourth amendment protections against improper search and seizure.  “I feel very strongly that this item is a violation of that,” Kleinman said.

Philip Kingston was more blunt. “Our federal government is not trustworthy on these issues,” he told Brown adding, “I’m mystified there’s not more outrage about privacy.”

Some people on the streets of Dallas agreed. Doug Rutley told CBS 11 News, “Normally I’m leery of law enforcement as far as personal rights are concerned.”  Jennifer Grantham added, “We have all these cases that come out all the time where they uncover documents or they mishandle documents then they end up in the hands of the wrong people.”

Limiting the number of police officers’ eyes that can look at raw data is a concern of Richard Roper’s, “to insure that they’re not just picking through information without any kind of controls in place,” he said.

The former U.S. Attorney, now a defense attorney, also is concerned about due process procedures.    “Would the police department follow the requirements of law under the Bank Secrecy Act to require them to obtain a grand jury subpoena to actually look at any underlying transactions?” he asked, then added, “You can’t look at the underlying transaction reported in the suspicious activity report unless you get a grand jury subpoena or a warrant .”

Brown assured the council police would act within the bounds of due process. The item passed 13-2.  An additional reason for the ordinance: drug money confiscated by the joint task force effort is split with the city getting only 25 percent. It should get much more from future confiscations.

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