Paper warrants be gone

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...

“Because there were so many steps before it could be signed by a judge and become a warrant, it would take several days for a warrant to go through,” she says.

The need for judges to physically sign the documents created more than a few headaches. Officers had to travel to the judge’s location to get these signatures. “Sometimes it would be difficult to track somebody down because they were busy doing other court-related things,” emphasizes Campbell County Judge Karen Thomas. “It was a strain and stress on the system. If you need a warrant right away, you need a warrant right away.”

The process was also inaccurate. “There were warrants that were lost or people who were double-served because of a lost piece of paper, photocopy or handout that said the individual had been picked up,” says Halmhuber. “Now that’s a lawsuit.”

And there were warrants out there that should have been recalled, Thomas adds. “There were lots of steps, and lots of chances for human error,” she says. “Nobody is perfect. Everyone wants to do a good job but mistakes happen.”

The lack of centralization also meant officers were often unaware warrants existed for subjects in other counties. “Officers may not know a suspect was wanted on a warrant in a county just five miles away,” Thomas says. “That’s a real issue.”

“If a warrant was issued after 5 p.m., no one would know if Jefferson County officials were looking for someone that night,” adds Halmhuber. Jefferson County has 24/7 staff and had to hand search for records, but other counties had no way to know to contact Jefferson County because such a limited number of warrants were in LINK . “And if they did learn about it, there were 60,000 warrants sitting in a back room filing cabinet, and it would take 15 minutes to an hour to find the one you needed, if you found it at all.”

The electronic solution

To combat the issues plaguing the paper-based warrant system, the Kentucky State Police, Office of Homeland Security, Attorney General’s Office and the Administrative Office of the Courts banded together to develop and implement the Kentucky eWarrants system.

With the new process, a police officer or intake person enters the eWarrants Web site to complete a complaint, which is sent electronically to the county attorney for review. The county attorney can approve, reject or pend the complaint, which if approved gets electronically submitted to a judge. The judge enters the Web site to either authorize the warrant, send it to mediation, reject or pend it. If they create a warrant, it is dispatched to all law enforcement agencies within the system. The eWarrant system also seamlessly interfaces with LINK within 15 minutes after the judge signs the warrant and information automatically links to NCIC. Each person on the eWarrants system has an inbox so they can see what’s pending or what he or she needs to address.

Authorized users enter a username and password to enter their inbox, and each has varying administration levels. “Only a judge can sign the warrant to create an active warrant or recall a warrant,” Miller says. “Officers couldn’t do either of these things, but they have the ability to search for a warrant and serve a warrant.”

Access to the system via the Internet with a smartphone, laptop, in-car computer or mobile data terminal greatly enhances efficiency, says Thomas, who points out she has even approved warrants while on vacation. “When judges are on call, they are obligated to go into the general inbox and take care of any warrants in there,” she says. “When I was stuck in Morocco because of the Icelandic volcanic eruption last year, I issued warrants from Morocco. My work got done and the ball kept rolling forward.”

If everything falls together correctly, warrants can be issued very, very fast. “If all the players are in place, and everyone is online at the same time, you can get a warrant through within an hour, in minutes versus hours or days,” Halmhuber says. “It’s definitely a time saver, which enables officers to arrest a lot faster.”

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