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Archive for Tuesday, November 26, 2002

County’s unserved warrant burden typical

Sheriff says task challenging, time-consuming

November 26, 2002

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Any given day, Douglas County Sheriff Rick Trapp's office has as many as 3,000 felony and misdemeanor warrants waiting to be served.

"We serve them as fast as we can," Trapp said. "I'm guessing we close out seven to 10 a day, and we probably get in another 40 to 50 a week. They stay pretty busy."

While 3,000 warrants sounds like a lot, law enforcement experts say it's a typical number.

"For a county the size of Douglas County, 3,000 warrants is well within the ballpark of what's to be expected," said Michael Birzer, a professor of criminal justice at Washburn University who spent 18 years with the Sedgwick County Sheriff's Department.

The number of outstanding warrants came to light earlier this month, after a Journal-World review of police and court records found the 19-year-old man accused in the shooting of a woman on the city's east side had been wanted.

That review revealed Antonio Floyd had repeated brushes with the law that would indicate dangerous tendencies. But officials in separate jurisdictions apparently were unable to piece together a chronology of Floyd's activities during the past year in a meaningful enough way to keep him behind bars.

Then, in October, charges were filed in Douglas County in connection with an incident that occurred in July. A warrant was issued.

And it went into the stack of other warrants Trapp's deputies had to serve.

Time-consuming work

Usually, warrants go unserved because their subjects know they're wanted and leave the area.

"It's a lot more complicated than just picking up a warrant and driving out to where somebody lives and bringing them in," Trapp said. "Sometimes you might have an address, but a lot of times it's not any good. It can be very time-consuming."

Trapp said he had "a couple deputies" who spent most of their time chasing warrants. The department also contracts with two civilians to serve warrants.

"Others help out at different times," he said.

Because the numbers change daily, Trapp said the department didn't keep a running count of how many of the warrants involve felonies and how many involve misdemeanors.

"It's probably 30 percent felonies, 70 percent misdemeanors," Trapp said. Most of the felons, he said, are those who've been arrested once, posted bond and taken off.

"If we have reason to believe they're in the area, we're looking for them," Trapp said. "But, again, you're talking about people who move around a lot."

Trapp said many of the backlogged warrants were for accused perpetrators of domestic violence.

To reduce the number, Trapp said he was considering:

  • Organizing an "amnesty day," when anyone wanted for a misdemeanor - bad check writers, mostly - could turn themselves in, make arrangements to pay off their debts and not go to jail.
  • Doing more one-day "blitzes," when deputies serve several low-level misdemeanor warrants - unpaid speeding tickets, for example - to remind the public of the need to heed traffic citations.

"We've done three or four since I've been in office," said Trapp, a former prosecutor who was elected sheriff in 2000.

  • Asking the Douglas County Commission to let him hire one or two more deputies to work on warrants.

But Trapp said he wouldn't take on any new initiatives until after January.

"When I came on, we were 10 to 12 officers short," he said. "But in January, for the first time, we'll be almost fully staffed - we'll be down only three positions."

Trapp said he would wait to see how the newly filled positions affected the department's operations before deciding whether to put more resources into serving warrants.

"There are a lot of needs to be met," he said.

Seeing success

The Shawnee County Sheriff's Office on Nov. 19 offered an amnesty day.

"We thought it would a huge success if we got rid of 200 warrants," Lt. Lance Royer said. "We ended up getting rid of exactly 505. So it was a huge, huge success."

On Monday, Shawnee County had 5,797 active warrants, or about 3.4 per thousand residents, compared with about 3 per thousand in Douglas County.

Before the amnesty day, Royer said, the sheriff's office sent postcards to 2,500 people wanted on "collection warrants" - those issued to writers of bad checks or people who fail to pay debts - letting them know they could settle their debt without running the risk of being taken to jail.

"Just about everybody who came in met with the attorneys who were there and agreed on some kind of payment plan," Royer said. "Some of them paid up in full."

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