In September 2000, Benjamin Mills strangled his estranged girlfriend Rebecca Caldwell in the bedroom of her Louisville, Kentucky, apartment. Though he has since been brought to justice and is serving a life sentence, this crime could have been prevented.
Court records show a complaint for Mills’ arrest on domestic violence charges was issued before the murder but, by the time the warrant was approved — six days later — it was too late for Rebecca Caldwell.
These types of tragedies have become far less likely today, Kentucky’s eWarrants system now includes 72 counties.
Consider this: On April 1, 2008, a detective filed a complaint to secure an arrest warrant for Kenneth Gatewood for murder, robbery first, and tampering with physical evidence. The detective searched the eWarrants system and found Gatewood listed as a witness in another case and learned his address and cell phone number. Then the following transpired:
At 13:15 hours: The detective filed a criminal complaint
At 13:35 hours: A city attorney issued the complaint
At 13:45 hours: A judge approved the warrant
At 14:00 hours: The judge entered the warrant into the Law Enforcement Information Network of Kentucky (LINK)
The next day, at 6:57 a.m., police took Gatewood into custody.
“It was that fast,” says Mary Halmhuber, CIO in the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security. “It all happened because the detective ran names as a query and came across Gatewood’s name in another criminal complaint.”
An electronic, interlinked system called eWarrants has revolutionized the way law enforcement and criminal justice professionals across Kentucky access and serve warrants, summonses, and other related documents.
Since the first rollout of eWarrants in 2008 and subsequent rollouts to date, 250,000 warrants have either been served or recalled. “Service rates for warrants rose from as low as 10 percent under the old paper-based system to roughly 50 percent immediately after implementation of eWarrants, and now hold steady as high as 80 percent,” says Halmhuber.
This system allows justice to be served and improves the safety of officers and the public at large, reports the Kentucky Governor’s Office.
“[The electronic warrants] are modernizing our criminal justice system by enabling 24/7, real-time access to critical law enforcement information, improving accountability and timeliness of warrant processing and serving, and ultimately enhancing the safety and security of our communities,” says Steven Beshear, governor of the state of Kentucky since 2007.
The problem with paper
“The effectiveness of Kentucky’s eWarrants system has not only met, but exceeded our expectations,” says Beshear. “This system is an example of using technology to improve the way we do business and enhance services to our citizens.”
But to fully appreciate what technology has accomplished, it’s important to know where Kentucky’s warrants system has been.
In 2008, when the first counties entered the eWarrants pilot, the state had 300,000 outstanding paper warrants, which were housed in decentralized locations across 120 counties. The warrants were slow to be issued as well as served. And just 6 percent made their way into Kentucky’s LINK system and only 3 percent were ever entered into NCIC. And since warrants have no expiration date or statute of limitations, they remained active in the system until served or recalled. Warrants were remaining in the system an average of 3.9 years, reports the Commonwealth Office of Technology in its nomination for the 2010 NASCIO Recognition Awards.
The process was inherently slow and had many steps, adds Jennifer Miller, public information officer at Fayette County Sheriff’s Department. With the paper-based system, an officer filed a criminal complaint requesting a warrant, which went to a county attorney for review. If the attorney approved the complaint, he sent it to a county judge for consideration. If the judge signed the document, a warrant was issued and sent to the requesting law enforcement agency. This agency then attempted to locate the subject to serve the warrant.