98,000 warrants gather dust in city

Broken system: Many arrest orders are ready for trash bin, including most dating to the 1980s.

November 21, 2001

IF MARYLAND really wants to combat crime effectively, the state will need a centralized warrant database.

No such computerized information bank exists today. Instead, chaos and inefficiency reign.

Baltimore, as the state's most populous city, is a frightening example.

The Police Department, which serves District Court warrants, has a backlog of 47,000 arrest authorizations, some going back to the mid-1980s. The Sheriff's Department has a backlog of 51,000 unserved warrants.

"There's a lot of dead wood," Alexius Owen Bishop of the Maryland Department of Public Safety recently told the Baltimore Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.

No kidding. When the Police Department reviewed a sample of 378 warrants from before 1995, most of them were garbage. The people sought had disappeared without a trace or were identified in the warrants only by a nickname. In some cases, businesses that had initiated the complaints had gone out of business.

A task force headed by state pretrial commissioner LaMont W. Flanagan now is seeking money to clear up Baltimore's warrant backlog. It also wants to replace the separate police and sheriff's inventories with a central database in which old warrants would be periodically revalidated.

The reforms sought by the task force are badly overdue. Too many outdated warrants that will never be able to be served clog the current system.

Several departments, including the police and probation officials, recently have moved to increase arrests of suspects named in newly issued warrants. This is giving more teeth to crime-fighting. The next step must be the quashing of old and useless warrants. The sooner this is done, the better.

The current backlog of nearly 100,000 mostly irrelevant warrants is intolerable. No wonder the criminal justice system is the laughingstock of thugs who beat it.

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