County revives court liaisons

Program increases contact between prosecutors, police

Eight arrests in one month

Anne Arundel

November 22, 2001|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

A program to arrest people who are wanted on other charges when they come to Anne Arundel County District Court has apprehended eight people in its first month of operation, resuming the work of a longstanding program that county police dropped last summer.

The new program, coordinated by the county sheriff's office, which is responsible for serving outstanding warrants, was launched last month, taking up the work that had been done by the county Police Department before it closed its court liaison office in July because of staffing shortages.

The arrest program was one of two that temporarily ended with the closing of the liaison office. The other program coordinated communication between prosecutors and police officers scheduled to be witnesses in cases.

In the program that seeks to arrest accused criminals, sheriff's dispatchers - working a few weeks ahead - check names on the misdemeanor criminal and serious traffic dockets for District Court in Annapolis against names on outstanding warrants.

After dispatchers find a wanted person's name on the docket, they notify prosecutors, who ask police to take the person to a courthouse holding cell, where sheriff's deputies then serve the person with a warrant.

"Within two hours the sheriffs pick them up and process them," Sheriff George F. Johnson IV said.

Johnson said that in the last two weeks of October, his dispatchers found on court dockets 44 people wanted on charges including drug offenses, theft and violation of probation. But only four of those showed up for their scheduled court hearings in Annapolis. Four more were arrested that way in the first two weeks of this month, he said.

The makeshift system replaces one that was in place for more than a decade. Police liaison officers comparing the daily court appearances list with outstanding warrants made 800 arrests a year at the District Courts in Annapolis and Glen Burnie.

"It was too valuable to let it drop," Johnson said,

He said he expects the number of wanted people arrested to significantly increase next year, when the sheriff's staff expands its search to include the county's other District Court in Glen Burnie.

The other program, for police who are witnesses, is working, but with difficulty.

"It's not working as efficiently," said State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee. "The communication is difficult. We have to call the police, and the attorneys are in the courtroom. They can't call from the courtroom. It's a communication problem."

Nevertheless, despite some confusion, he said he had not heard of any cases that were dropped or lost as a result.

But Emerson C. Davis, deputy chief for the Police Department's field operations bureau, said program "seems to be working fine."

The unseen job of making sure officers appear for court and are notified of delays in cases has gone to a relay system. Prosecutors tell on-call police supervisors, who relay messages to officers.

There are no plans to reopen the liaison office, Davis said.

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