Last week, police in Fair Haven arrested a Whitehall man wanted on a warrant out of Rutland District Court. Earlier in the month, the Washington County Sheriff’s Department arrested a Dresden man who was a fugitive from justice.
But the degree to which local law enforcement agencies are able and willing to pursue warrants differs by the severity of the offense and the resources at the department’s disposal.
“We periodically attempt to locate people who we have warrants for,” said chief Matt Dickinson, “but it can depend on the type of warrant and the charge.”
Granville Police Chief Ernie Bassett said how aggressively they pursue warrants depends on the severity of the charge. Someone wanted on a sex offense charge is going to receive more attention than someone who failed to pay a fine.
There are two primary types of warrants: bench and arrest.
Bench warrants are typically issued after someone has already been arrested but has subsequently been deemed in contempt of court.
“They’ve been to court and didn’t do something they were supposed to do, like a pay a fine” said Washington County Sheriff Jeff Murphy. A bench warrant can also be issued if someone doesn’t appear in court as ordered.
An arrest warrant is issued when there is evidence a person has committed a crime but hasn’t yet been arrested.
Both types of warrant are issued by judges.
Depending on the charge, an arrest warrant can be issued locally, countywide or state-wide.
If a subject is wanted on a misdemeanor in New York and a warrant is issued, law enforcement personnel can pursue the warrant in adjoining counties, but not state-wide or across state borders.
“You can’t cross borders for anything less than a felony,” Dickinson said.
If a person is wanted on a lesser charge and is arrested in another state or a distant county, the person can be held and then extradited, but that doesn’t always happen because the expense of doing so sometimes exceeds the benefit.
Failure to pay traffic tickets can sometimes results in a person’s driver’s license being revoked.
The Washington County Sheriff’s Department has begun publishing a list of outstanding warrants on its website. The list contains approximately 300 names.
“Most are traffic offenses related to a failure to pay a fine or they violated some other court order,” Murphy said. “It looks like a lot but it isn’t when you break it down by jurisdiction. I think a lot of people don’t realize there are 17 towns and nine villages in the county, so there are 26 courts.
“It’s a big county and there is a lot of potential not to pay a fine.”
Dickinson said the Whitehall Police Department has approximately 40 active warrants, some of which date back nearly 20 years. Bassett couldn’t place an exact figure on the number of active warrants Granville has, but said it’s a 50/50 split between bench and arrest warrants.
Murphy said the Sheriff’s Office spends several days a month pursuing warrants.
“We’re limited by man power, but we try a take day or two here or there and grab a handful of warrants and go out and look for these people,” he said.
Bassett said cooperation between departments is key. He says at times they use other agencies to locate people wanted on warrants and are always willing to help other agencies when someone is believed to be in Granville.
Dickinson said they actively pursue arrest warrants and if someone has a bench warrant and an officer sees them on the street, they’ll stop and talk to them or bring them to court.
“Eventually you catch up with everyone,” he said.