Getting Away With It?
Oahu has almost 50,000 outstanding bench warrants. Are criminals walking scot-free?
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Technology Used to Decrease Backlog
Until recently, the state Judiciary and law enforcement used an archaic method in ordering and serving bench warrants. A judge would order a warrant and then sign it. Copies of the warrant would be packaged at the state Judiciary’s office and then transferred to the Sheriff Division and HPD offices for filing.
In March, the state Judiciary debuted the Electronic Bench Warrant (eBW) project. Project specialists say it will reduce the backlog by replacing hard copies of bench warrants with electronic versions. They allow for faster delivery time from the courts to law enforcement and better collaboration between the deputies and officers. Right now eBW only contains traffic-related warrants, and only Oahu and Maui County use the program. The goal is to transition all counties into the system and incorporate criminal warrants into the database.
In her office in Kauikeaouli Hale, Dana Nakasato, a state Judiciary project specialist, types Liholiho Street into eBW’s search bar. A Google map pops up, peppered with 85 dots down the street—representing 85 outstanding traffic-related warrants. She pulls up Oneawa Street in Kailua; there are 56 traffic-related warrants. Along Ala Wai Boulevard there are 250, although there could be more—the system maxes out at 250 search results. Remember, these numbers don’t include criminal warrants.
“This is something we wouldn’t have been able to do before, when we were relying on the hard copy,” says Nakasato, adding that eBW is updated with new warrants every day. The Judiciary also compiled a top-20 list of people with the most outstanding traffic-related warrants—the No. 1 person has 14—and a top-20 list for traffic-related warrants with the highest bail amounts.
The technology has saved the state
Judiciary and law enforcement a lot of time, paper and a few filing cabinets. Deputies and officers are able to print out the bench warrants instead of having to head to the Sheriff offices to pick up the hard copies. Since it’s inception, more than 4,500 traffic warrants have been served using eBW.
The project was best utilized during the Sheriff’s outstanding traffic-warrant sweeps. Although the eBW system is a more organized, searchable database, law enforcement isn’t taking advantage of the technology to its fullest potential because the sweeps have stopped and traffic-related warrants are a low priority.
EBW is an addition to the more than $12 million, statewide court computer system, the Judiciary Information Management System, better known as JIMS. It was initiated in 2005, in an attempt to create a statewide, centralized warrant storage database, and like eBW, it currently only shows traffic-related cases. Law enforcement does not use JIMS to serve warrants, but rather to know who has one to serve them with a hard copy. The system is far from finished—the state Judiciary hopes to have criminal warrants integrated by June 2013. In the meantime, the courts and law enforcement must search several systems for the varying types of cases and warrants.
Sonobe Hong adds that sometimes there is still a lag in generating newly issued warrants, and likewise removing warrants that have already been taken care of. “The concept of the e-Bench Warrant is great—if they can ever get it to do what it’s designed to do,” adds Nagamine.
Criminals have been brought in successfully because of the bench-warrant process. Kendro says that a 19-year-old man, Tariq Holloway, wanted for an alleged shooting in May, was extradited back to Hawaii in August after escaping to Chicago. Police used a warrant to arrest him and he was indicted on attempted-murder charges. Nakasato adds that there have also been recent successes in serving traffic-related warrants. In August, another man, who was eBW’s No. 4 person on the list of highest bail fugitives, was arrested on four outstanding traffic-related warrants with a total bail of $20,250.
When the bench-warrant process works, it works. Now we only need it to work 49, 909 more times.