Officials find ways to beat warrant backlog
Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 9, 2004
NATCHEZ &045;&045; Being a police officer or sheriff’s deputy in the Miss-Lou means not only making arrests and traffic stops but serving quite a few warrants as well.
In fact, in Natchez’s case, there are more than 4,000 outstanding bench warrants and affidavits &045;&045; more than half a million dollars’ worth, based on municipal court figures. But local law enforcement officials said this week they’re taking steps to make a dent in that number &045;&045; and, as a result, bring more money into local coffers. Those steps include assigning each officer a certain time to serve warrants and pursuing grant money for a computerized system to track Natchez-Adams County warrants.
It also takes old-fashioned time and effort, which Natchez Police Chief Mike Mullins said is keeping the number of outstanding warrants from snowballing.
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&uot;We make about 200 arrests a month and we also add 200 (warrants) a month,&uot; Mullins said. Last year 1,340 bench warrants were issued through the NPD and 1,142 were served. The total number served reflects warrants that may have been issued in years prior to 2003.
A total of $349,473 was brought in through the bench warrants. The money collected after paying state assessments goes into the city’s general fund The municipal court still had $581,606 in outstanding bench warrants as of December, Judge John Tipton said.
In addition to NPD’s bench warrants, Mullins said it was common to out-of-town calls regarding a suspect in the Natchez area. That’s common in the Miss-Lou, with officers searching across the Mississippi River to find their suspects. And while each individual agency polices warrants separately, cooperation is a &uot;vital&uot; part said Concordia Parish Sheriff Randy Maxwell, especially with serious crimes.
&uot;We get a call a week or so,&uot; for a warrant from another agency, Mullins said. &uot;They get the same priority as ours, unless there is immediate danger to the public.&uot; Officers also devote time to making bench warrant arrests. Those are orders from a judge to make an arrest, usually issued when a person fails to appear in court.
Each patrol officer at the NPD spends about two hours a day trying to locate individuals who have warrants out for their arrest. Officers may contact workplaces, go to residences or visit family and friends to find the person.
Mullins said the department uses any database they can find, such as driver’s license information or public utility records, to locate the individual. &uot;We make very diligent efforts to make those arrests,&uot; he said. Arrests also can be the result of a traffic stop, and a warrant or bench warrant can show up when an officer runs a driver’s license or when the person’s name is run through each agencies’ database.If a full shift of officers is on duty, one officer might be assigned to strictly work on warrants.
For the CPSO, Maxwell said an officer is assigned strictly to policing warrants but other deputies also try to locate people on warrants.
One of the biggest challenges to making a warrant arrest is locating the suspect. Getting a legitimate address is the first place to start; a post office box number will tell an officer nothing. &uot;It’s challenging,&uot; Maxwell said.
Mullins said NPD has active warrants that were issued in 1992. He said something that prevents a quick arrest is people who move out of town or students who go to college.
While people may get away for a while, Vidalia Police Chief Billy Hammers assures warrants are &uot;always going to be there until they take care of it.&uot; Essentially, for traffic violations, the people come back to you, Hammers said, coming to the station to pay off any fines to take the warrant of their record.
Warrants show up on people’s records, especially when the police run driver licenses or criminal records and that is one way agencies can catch people with outstanding warrants.
In Concordia Parish, the most warrants are for issuing worthless checks, criminal neglect of family and traffic violations. For felonies, warrants are turned in to the National Crime Information Center, which links it nationwide.
Adams County Sheriff Ronny Brown said his office only has about two typed pages of outstanding bench warrants.
&uot;We put all the names on a list and when officers are out they try to stop by,&uot; Brown said. But he said the department was looking into grant money that would allow that department and the NPD to put warrants on a computer system for easy access.