Alliance formed to find suspects

MVA helps Sheriff's Office enforce arrest warrants

`It's been a huge success so far'

Agency can deny suspects new license, registration

November 30, 2003|By Molly Knight | Molly Knight,SUN STAFF

What's one way to get wanted suspects to turn themselves in?

Deny them the right to drive.

Since it teamed up with the state's Motor Vehicle Administration on Sept. 4, the Anne Arundel County Sheriff's Office has served warrants on 335 people wanted on criminal charges.

Through the partnership, the Sheriff's Office electronically sends the MVA all of the warrants deputies have failed to serve after 31 days and at least one attempt. As soon as the MVA receives the information, it sends a letter to the wanted person, giving him or her 15 days to satisfy the warrant. If the suspect does not take action, the warrant becomes a red flag on that person's driver's record, meaning the MVA can refuse to issue a new license or registration.

In the first month of the alliance, sheriff's deputies served 126 warrants out of a backlog of 1,721. Last month, the office served 102 of the 127 additional warrants it added to the MVA's data bank. And between Nov. 1 and Nov. 25, Sheriff George Johnson said, the office served 107 out of 136 new outstanding warrants.

"It's been a huge success so far," Johnson said. "We've had much greater numbers than anyone expected."

The partnership is the result of the Outstanding Arrest Warrants Act, a state law that allows law enforcement agencies to turn over warrant information to the MVA. The agency can then suspend a driver's license or refuse to renew registration for offenses other than traffic violations.

Those who go to the MVA and learn they have an outstanding warrant are instructed to contact law enforcement authorities. The MVA is sharing information with police departments in Maryland, as well as motor vehicle agencies in other states.

Since the measure was enacted about two years ago, sheriff, state and city police offices in eight counties have worked with the MVA to crack down on those with outstanding warrants. Participating counties include Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard.

Johnson said that refusing wanted people the right to drive has proved surprisingly effective.

"It's like a wake-up call for them to turn themselves in," he said.

Capt. Ed Smith, bureau commander of the Arundel Sheriff's Office, said that the alliance has also reduced the workload of deputies, who typically spend weeks -- even months -- chasing down suspects.

"In a nutshell, it's freed our deputies up to work on other cases because people are turning themselves in," Smith said. "A lot of times, people who are wanted on parole violations are less than cooperative ... but now, they're coming forward."

The idea for the partnership came in part from a 1997 alliance between the MVA and the state Department of Human Resources, which works to revoke the driving privileges of parents who are not paying court-ordered child support.

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