Warrants issued from the St. Joseph municipal court continue to pile up at the police department, as more than 300 warrants haven’t been entered into their system.
When the municipal court reopened following COVID-19, the police department was inundated with warrants. As a steady flow continues to arrive daily, the station has only fallen deeper into a hole.
“It’s extremely demanding and we’re keeping up the best we can,” said St. Joseph Police Capt. Jeff Wilson. “But there’s no magical cure for it. We just got to keep knocking at these the best we can.”
But little has been done to improve the situation. Municipal Court Judge John Boeh raised concerns to Police Chief Chris Connally about the unentered warrants back in December.
“I’ve told them that this is not acceptable,” Boeh said. “You have to get this done. There has to be consequences for (defendants who don’t appear in court).”
According to the police, they were able to decrease the number of warrants from the “upper 300s” to about 80 earlier in the year. But, as of Tuesday, it has skyrocketed to about 330. The department said the decrease in employees is the main reason they have fallen behind.
Initially, employees in the communication center entered warrants into the system. As the department fell behind, it had officers on injury leave and other administrative personnel help out.
“It’s very demanding, as far as when it comes to the number of personnel that it takes to do this,” Wilson said. “We get this big influx of warrants, and at the same time, we’re losing personnel, both police officers and, more importantly at that time, in the communication center, who were doing a majority of the entry process.”
Anyone can enter warrants, it doesn’t have to be commissioned officers. But they do have to be trained on the Missouri Uniform Law Enforcement System, which is the software used for the entry process. This training takes about three days to complete.
But the police department is hesitant to hire people specifically to enter backlogged warrants. For one, it’s difficult finding people given the starved labor market. But even if the department did hire someone, it would only be temporary.
A new software system is being implemented at other police departments across the state that will speed up the entry process. When the software arrives in St. Joseph, it will end the warrant backlog the department faces.
“Once the software gets implemented, it basically will transfer all the information electronically to our communication center,” Wilson said. “In essence, with a little bit of an exaggeration, it will be a one push button process to enter a warrant.”
But until then, some victims aren’t receiving the justice they expect from the court system. In the current system, a victim could see their perpetrator walking around for months before being arrested.
“If you’re a victim of an assault that’s concerning, because you want that person brought to justice,” Wilson said. “You went through the efforts to file a report and do what you needed to do, so you want that person brought to justice.”
Boeh said the 330 unentered warrants are a detriment to the municipal court.
“You’ve got to have the integrity of the system,” Boeh said. “The integrity of the system means that once the warrants are issued, they have to be entered on time.”