PARKERSBURG - Authorities are trying to reduce the backlog of outstanding arrest warrants in Wood County.
About 650 unserved warrants remain in the county, Vienna and Williamstown and Parkersburg where 300 are to be served.
The majority of the active warrants are for minor offenses, such as worthless checks, traffic violations, petit thefts and missed court dates, said Steve Stephens, director of confinement operations for the Wood County Sheriff's Department. Fewer than 10 are for drug-related offenses, since these warrants are often immediately served after being issued by a magistrate, he said.
Photo by Natalee Seely
Sarah Farnsworth, day shift supervisor with Wood County Confinement Operations, sifts through a filing cabinet of outstanding warrants.
To decrease the number of unserved warrants, the sheriff's department and the U.S. Marshals Service recently reached an agreement that would reimburse the county for overtime hours used to serve warrants.
Law enforcement agencies are working throughout the state to decrease outstanding warrants, Supervisory Deputy U.S. Marshal Alex Neville of the Clarksburg office said. The number of active warrants in the northern district of West Virginia was unavailable, but Neville said since October 2009, the marshals service has arrested more than 200 individuals with outstanding state felony warrants.
Manpower is the problem, Stephens said.
"Occasionally, there is a countywide law enforcement effort where all agencies get together and set a date to try and find these wanted individuals and serve the warrants," he said.
Warrants are typically served by coincidence when a wanted individual is detained by police or when officers make traffic stops, Stephens said. When a stop is made, a check is made through all area police agency databases to determine if the individual has an outstanding warrant against him.
Felony warrants and other warrants for a serious crime are given priority and are immediately served, while the others are ranked according to seriousness, Stephens said.
However, individuals elude police by frequently moving, changing their names and appearance or using a different identification card, he said.
"A lot of these individuals are transient and move from location to location writing bad checks. If they are arrested, they appear before a magistrate and sometimes give addresses that may not be correct," Stephens said. "However, there is no way for the court to be able to confirm the address given, so when the court sends a notice, the address isn't valid and the individual is not contacted about an upcoming court date."
A capias warrant for their arrest is issued when an individual fails to appear for a scheduled court date. Such warrants make up about 10 percent of all outstanding warrants in the county, said Stephens.
Other jurisdictions nationwide are discussing ways to catch wanted individuals, such as linking state motor vehicle bureaus to criminal data centers and preventing anyone with an outstanding warrant from renewing their driver's license.