A Rhode Island state police cruiser. Photo courtesy State of Rhode Island.

A Rhode Island state police cruiser. Photo courtesy State of Rhode Island.

PROVIDENCE, RI - Rhode Island law enforcement agencies plan to replace aging vehicle fleets, set up a statewide police training center, and build a new headquarters with a $230 million asset forfeiture windfall from Google.

The recipients of the funds include the Rhode Island State Police ($45 million), East Providence Police Department ($60 million), North Providence Police Department ($60 million), Rhode Island Attorney General's Office ($60 million), and the Rhode Island National Guard ($5 million).

Rhode Island State Police commanders, who manage a $30 million operating budget and 238 sworn troopers, will share their $45 million among seven DPS agencies. The bulk of the funds will likely go toward adding prisoner-transport vehicles and replacing an aging DPS fleet of about 200 patrol and administrative vehicles.

Another example of fleet-related plans the state has for some of the funds is to acquire a bomb-squad vehicle and equipment, as well as a mobile surveillance vehicle for cybercrime enforcement.

The funds come from a $500 million settlement paid by the Internet advertising giant to avoid criminal prosecution for serving ads from Canadian companies offering illegal pharmaceuticals to U.S. buyers. Rhode Island law enforcement officers and troopers participated in a two-year joint task force investigation led by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to build the case against Google.

The settlement, which was announced in 2011, means Google won't face prosecution for enabling illegal sales of Canadian pharmaceuticals with its AdWords advertising platform.

Spending plans have been submitted to the Department of Justice's asset forfeiture unit for review, said Lisa Holley, chief legal counsel of the Rhode Island Department of Public Safety.

"We've proposed what we would use the funding for," Holley said. "The whole idea of spending this money is to get as much impact out of it for the state."

In addition to $7.8 million set aside for the statewide initiatives, each agency has developed its own spending plan for a sum that's often greater than the individual agency's budget.

The funds bring a massive windfall to the two municipal police departments, for example. In East Providence, a jurisdiction of about 50,000 residents, Chief Tavares oversees a $12 million annual budget, 93 sworn officers and 88 patrol vehicles. Chief Tavares plans to replace his entire fleet, build a new police station, and possibly build a state-of-the-art firearms range that could be shared with surrounding agencies.

The state also plans to set up a committee to review funding requests from municipal agencies once a year for training, gear, or other law enforcement initiatives.

The remaining $270 million of the $500 million settlement will be divvied up among federal agencies. A $100 million share will go to federal task-force agencies that provided sworn agents from the FDA, U.S. Postal Service, Secret Service, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Another $170 million will be deposited into the Department of Justice's asset forfeiture fund.

By Paul Clinton