Backlog of warrants criticized

Arundel executive candidate blames the county sheriff, an opponent

August 24, 2006|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,Sun reporter

Former Anne Arundel County parks director Dennis Callahan questioned yesterday the leadership of Sheriff George F. Johnson IV, pointing to a backlog of thousands of warrants in the sheriff's office as proof that his fellow Democrat is ill-qualified to be county executive.

In the sharpest broadside yet among the seven county executive candidates seeking to succeed Democrat Janet S. Owens, Callahan sought to gain ground on Johnson, the perceived front-runner for the party nomination.

Callahan noted statistics from a recent article in The Examiner, which reported that the sheriff's office had failed to serve more than 11,000 warrants. He said the Baltimore County sheriff's office had a backlog of fewer than 3,000.

In a hastily called news conference at his Eastport townhouse, Callahan suggested that county residents are less safe because these warrants have not been served, and he called Johnson's department "in disarray."

"When I first heard these numbers, I tended not to believe them," said Callahan, a former Annapolis mayor. "Lo and behold, it's true."

While acknowledging that his department has a backlog of 11,000 to 12,000 warrants each month, Johnson said that Callahan distorted the statistics, mentioning that Anne Arundel serves warrants for Circuit Court and District Court, where the majority of warrants are issued, largely for minor traffic offenses. Baltimore County's deputies serve warrants mostly for juvenile-related cases; Baltimore County police handle warrants for criminal cases.

Johnson said that all told, the backlog of warrants in Baltimore County is nearly identical to that of Anne Arundel.

"Dennis did not do his homework," Johnson said.

Johnson said his department served 4,196 warrants last year. He said he has a team of 12 to 15 deputies to serve warrants seven days a week, up to 16 hours a day. He added that warrants for more violent crime receive greater attention, and said the backlog does not compromise safety.

Johnson said his efforts to reform the department over his nearly 12 years as sheriff have saved county taxpayers millions of dollars. Despite facing staffing shortages, Johnson said his department has broadened its duties, taking over the serving of District Court warrants from the county police in 1998. When that happened, Johnson noted, the backlog of warrants was 14,000.

Johnson labeled Callahan's attack, coming less than three weeks before the Sept. 12 primary, as a "desperate act."

As of the most recent filing of campaign finance reports last week, Johnson had $514,000 in cash on hand; Callahan had less than $26,000. Johnson also has earned the endorsement of several prominent county Democrats and unions; Callahan has none.

Callahan said his attack on Johnson does not change the tenor of the campaign.

"I don't consider this a negative campaign," Callahan said. "This is a factual campaign."

phill.mcgowan@baltsun.com

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