When officers start their shifts, they can search the active warrants in their territory and serve them between calls. “The system allows me to put a warrant into a specific inbox, say for all officers working a specific ZIP code,” says Thomas. “They can check their inbox to see active warrants within their territory, and that’s why they get served so quickly.”
Officers also can search the system for an individual, for instance at a traffic stop. There are multiple search capabilities, so officers can search by full name, partial name, date of birth and other identifiers to find warrants in the system. “Before if there was a typo somewhere down the line, it was very hard to find the information,” Miller says.
The speed of the system enables officers to arrest suspects before they flee. Campbell County is situated along the Ohio River with Cincinnati on the other side. Criminals who commit crimes in the county often flee to Ohio to avoid detection, but Thomas recalls a case where eWarrants’ speed prevented that. “We had a situation with a potential homicide and had to get a warrant out right away. Officers called me at 3 a.m. and said they had put a warrant in my inbox. I checked it and we were able to hold that person,” Thomas recalls.
Not only that but it’s possible for officers and judges as well to address backlogged warrants. When Campbell County went online in 2008, judges sifted through old warrants, recalled some and entered others into the system. Now that these warrants are centrally located, Thomas says officers are arresting individuals on warrants that go back many years.
“We recently arrested a guy on a warrant from 1996,” Thomas says. “I looked at his record and he’s had cases in 2002, 2003 and 2005, but they were all out of the county. Once we had the eWarrants system, we were finally able to pick him up.”
There’s also an audit trail because the system keeps a “fingerprint” of everyone who looked at a warrant, according to Miller. Officers can note when they attempted to serve the warrant, at what address, and whether or not they were successful, so “there is a historical record of what’s been done with the warrant,” says Miller.
If an attempt is unsuccessful, the warrant remains active. When a warrant has been served, the system automatically updates to show that it’s been served. It documents the date and time it happened, and the officer who did it.
The statewide push
Kentucky’s eWarrants system was originally funded through a $4.5 million General Fund appropriation and implemented through the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security. Extending the program statewide is expected to cost approximately $900,000. Rural counties are being funded with a federal grant to the Attorney General’s Office.
“We have identified funding for all 120 counties,” says Halmhuber. “We do need some additional funds [to get all counties on the system], but it’s doubtful that we will have that funding by the end of the year. We will have up to 115 out of 120 counties online by December 2011, and that’s a lot.”
There is a need for more money to get every county on the system, Thomas agrees. Finances are an issue. The Kentucky State Police carries the financial burden of administering the system and maintaining it. “None of us have any money and that’s a problem,” she says. “How we run it and how we pay for it in the long-term is an issue. In the long run it pays for itself by saving man hours, but that’s hard to see.
“But every county needs to be on this system to take full advantage of it. We are a transitory people and this kind of information network is just so necessary for us to keep doing a good job.”
But it will happen, agree those in charge of getting the other counties onboard.
The system is also a prime example of what can be accomplished when all agencies in the criminal justice system work together toward a common goal.
“This is an excellent example of cross-agency collaboration because it crosses state and local departments, the judicial and executive branches of government the attorney general’s office, state and local police,” Halmhuber says. “This system brought all of these parties together and it shows that doing the right thing can be a good thing.”