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Backlog Of Warrants At Chatham County Sheriff's Office


There are more than 10-thousand warrants backlogged at the Chatham County Sheriff's Office-- warrants for people deputies haven't been able to find. But what exactly does that mean to you? Are there dangerous criminals walking our streets? And what can be done about it?

Some Chatham County Sheriff's deputies spend most of the day, every day on the road. They are the deputies charged with serving warrants. The county is divided into thirteen sections and one deputy covers each. They're handed a new stack of warrants to serve every day...and many of those sought are not easy to locate. Those end up in the "unable to locate" warrant file room. Sgt. Carlos Michael explains, "If a warrant comes in and it's a misdemeanor warrant, it has an out of state address on it - it automatically goes straight to the UTL file. If it has an invalid address and we don't - if it has an invalid address - like no apartment number, too many numbers, not enough numbers - it automatically goes to the UTL file." Those UTL files average more than 10,000 - the exact number changing all the time...but the deputy in charge of all those warrants says the majority aren't for the more serious offenses. Only about 25-percent are felony warrants, 75-percent are misdemeanors. Sgt. Laurie Tillman says, "Somebody missed court for a traffic citation, suspended license, something that can be taken care of very easily - when they didn't go to court it turns into a contempt warrant."

The number of courts has increased in the last decade with the addition of specialized courts for DUI, drug, mental health and Veteran's cases while the number of deputies delivering their warrants has remained essentially the same...and delivering warrants is not all the deputies do. Sgt. Williams says, "The deputies have evictions, they have their warrants, they have subpoenas and garnishments and lawsuits to serve. We have to pick up on mental health orders, other calls we get sent on to have to do."

Any assignment can take an undetermined amount of time and can throw off their schedule of stops. There's no real possibility of catching up in this job. The paperwork is never-ending. Sgt. Williams says, "The paperwork that we took out today - came in the day before - so we get back in the afternoon, there's more paperwork - warrants and civil - that comes in - so paperwork comes in constantly." But everything is prioritized. Chatham County Sheriff Al St. Lawrence says that's why the number of backlogged felony warrants is so much smaller than misdemeanors, "They devote their time to the more serious things - the only way we could improve on that is certainly more personnel and people trying to serve warrants." Something that's not a priority now with more pressing concerns like staffing for the jail expansion in a tight economy...but deputies say they don't let staffing issues keep them from getting a dangerous criminal off the streets. They'll call in help from other agencies when needed. Sgt. Tillman explains how they work with one of those resources, "We have a deputy that's assigned to the Marshals and he works closely with our department. He will come over and anytime that there's a warrant they can't find in Chatham County - he'll come get a copy of it and then he starts working it through the Marshal Service."

Each one of the files in the Warrant room represents a warrant that still needs to be served, color-coded depending on where it came from. Deputies say just because there's a backlog of more than 10-thousand - doesn't mean there are actually 10-thousand people they're looking for...some people have multiple warrants in their name. Sgt. Williams explains, "Someone may be on probation, but have maybe gotten in trouble with child support, didn't want to pay for the child support case - so therefore, they won't show up for - stop reporting to their probation and they have another case pending, so they won't show up for that, so they have several warrants." And sometimes deputies know where someone is - but can't serve the warrant. Sgt. Tillman says one example is, "We've got one that actually I have in here that's an indictment - I believe it's from '88 - and he got picked up in Delaware - they let him out on bond and when he was out on bond he killed somebody and he is in prison there for 40 years - but I've still got the warrant." And it will stay in the system until they can bring him back here to serve it. Sheriff St. Lawrence says, "They do all they can do and I can't ask for no more without additional resources."

Many times the Sheriff's Office is able to serve a warrant after receiving new information from the public. They encourage anyone who may know the location of a person who may have a warrant to call that information in. You can do so anonymously through Crimestoppers at 912-234-2020.

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