Local courts now using new e-Warrant system

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By Geoff Hamill

A job that once took days can now take just minutes to complete.
The Washington County Circuit Clerk’s Office is among the latest to move to the e-warrant system for tracking warrants issued through Kentucky’s court system, and the process could save a lot of time for law enforcement officials, as well as court officials.
As of Wednesday, Washington County and the other counties in the 11th Judicial District, including Green, Marion and Taylor counties,  were officially using the new system to track people wanted for crimes and other court-related matters. The project is part of a $3.9 million project through the American Recovery and Investment Act grant awarded to the Office of the Attorney General in 2009.
“I am pleased eWarrants is now up and running in yet another of Kentucky’s judicial circuits,” said Attorney General Jack Conway. “I appreciate the support we have received from local officials, as well as our state partners.”
Among those partners are the local circuit clerk’s office, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and the Springfield Police Department.
John Graves, deputy circuit clerk, said the new electronic warrant system will remove a lot of paperwork and a lot of lost time between a warrant being issued and served.
“In the past, if  a warrant was issued, we would have to wait for a judge to sign it, then send it to law enforcement officials in the county where the person lives,” Graves said. “If they can’t find the person, the paper comes back to us, and we have the paperwork, and the law enforcement officials may or may not know about the warrant after it comes back to us.”
The new system will be much more efficient, according to Graves.
“With this new system, we enter it into the computer, the judge checks his eWarrant mail and signs off on it, and it goes into the system. Once it’s in the system, any county with eWarrants can access it and serve it if the person is stopped for a traffic violation or anything, anywhere in Kentucky,” Graves explained.
The new system will help Graves and the staff in the clerk’s office because they will receive fewer phone calls about warrants, and he said that time saving would be a big plus, adding up to as much as an hour per day for the staff as a whole.
Local law enforcement officers will also see the benefits of the new warrant system. Springfield Police Chief Fred Armstrong said his officers will be able to serve warrants that were previously not as convenient for them to serve.
“It’s going to be a big tool for us because in the past, one of the things that happened is we were not always aware of what warrants were outstanding,” Armstrong said. “Now, we will know what warrants are outstanding. If we run a driver’s registration on a license plate or an operator’s license, if there’s a warrant, we will know it immediately. We had one last week where we were getting registration on an accident. The guy had an e-Warrant, and we were able to serve that warrant. What it does for us is really improve the system and eliminates any breakdown in communication on who has what warrants.”
Armstrong added that his officers have in-car computers terminals, and they are certified to have access to the online system, giving them instant e-Warrant data while in their cruisers. He said officers must have eight hours of training, then maintain four hours of training per year to remain certified.
Washington County Deputy Sheriff Melissa Knopp said her department will also benefit from the e-Warrant system.
“I think the biggest impact is going to be on traffic stops,” Knopp said. “Any time we run a driver’s license number, that’s going to tag it into the e-Warrant system, and if that person has an active warrant from anywhere, we’ll know instantly.”
Knopp said the old system required officers to manually track down the subject to serve warrants, and if they could not find the person at home or work, it was often difficult to serve. Speed is another factor she said will make a noticeable change for officers.
“In the past, if a bench warrant was issued on a Monday, by the time you send it to the county where the person lives, it could take four or five days to get it in the system. Now, it’s in the system instantly, and can be served if the person is stopped later that day,” Knopp said.
Graves said his office currently has 498 warrants from Washington County alone, and the new system of e-Warrants will help get those served and cleared out of the system much more quickly. He added that the first local warrant served came on a case from 2002, and it had previously been sitting in the system with little chance of being served.
“That warrant was from 2002, and it was for non-payment of fines. It probably wouldn’t have gotten served if you didn’t know about it, but now it’s taken care of, and the person has been served, and that warrant will be out of the system,” Graves said.
Currently, the e-Warrant system will only list warrants for traffic, misdemeanor and felony offenses, but Graves said it will later also feature domestic violence warrants, too.