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5 - CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Up to the publication of this report, the project staff continued to collect data and information concerning FTAs/FTCs and outstanding warrants across the United States, and continued to look for strategies that local jurisdictions have been using to locate absconders and defaulters. We have found it difficult to locate persons knowledgeable in the specific subject matter; that is, whether outstanding warrants are a problem with individuals charged with DWI offenses, mainly because data were not available to make such a determination.
As discussed throughout this report, there are a number of variables which must be taken into account when determining the nature and extent of outstanding DWI warrants. Based on this study and other recent related traffic safety projects, the authors believe there is a substantial problem with outstanding warrants for DWI offenses in a majority of jurisdictions. The difficulty remains in quantifying the problem due to the limited availability and/or accessibility of accurate and complete data. Basically, we found that many sites were not able to easily provide data and could not assess how large a problem may (or may not) exist with FTA and/or FTC behavior. Thus, they were unlikely to be effectively dealing with the issue.
The data provided was often in summarized form; thus, the accuracy or reliability of the information could not be independently verified. Databases were often disjointed, meaning that many were incompatible. This made it difficult, and in most cases impossible, to link pertinent information. Sometimes, records on outstanding warrants are purged from the database when the person contacts the courts, or is arrested. In these cases, it is difficult to determine the true number of FTAs/FTCs and the length of time the majority of warrants are outstanding. Many of the sites report problems with FTCs after the case has been adjudicated, when those convicted of DWI offenses are not properly monitored to insure that they comply with court-ordered sanctions. In addition, fear of recognition and bad publicity hindered our attempts to locate information on outstanding warrants. It is understandable that authorities in jurisdictions would have a concern that the subject errant behavior may increase if the problem is made public. However, it is difficult to achieve a solution to a problem that has not been properly identified.
We have talked with individuals in each of the study sites about programs and methods which have been implemented to deal with persons who fail to appear at some point during the adjudication process and/or fail to comply with court-ordered sanctions. In most instances, warrants are issued, but often law enforcement agencies have limited personnel and budgets, which restrict the search for defaulters. And, most often, warrant squads give priority to the search for persons accused of more serious offenses than DWI charges. We were told that locating persons charged with violent crimes typically require the most efforts by law enforcement officers, which leaves little or no time or resources for seeking DWI absconders and defaulters. Additionally, outstanding warrants for failure to comply with sanctions, usually meaning non-payment of fines, have resulted in such a large backlog of outstanding warrants that alternative solutions are now being explored in some areas. Since these fines owed would otherwise not be paid, two alternatives are to send out a warrant squad specifically targeting those individuals owing large amounts and then paying for the squad with those funds, or privatizing the process by handing those cases over to collection agencies.
Open dialogue and cooperation between the adjudication, correction, and particularly important, the law enforcement agencies involved are paramount to constructing a public safety network, thereby closing the loopholes that DWI offenders can slip through when they chose to abscond. Also, working with neighboring jurisdictions on issues such as cross-checking records of individuals in custody to assist in locating persons wanted in one jurisdiction who are already in custody in another jurisdiction, can prove mutually beneficial. And, finally, the cooperation of multiple jurisdictions can deal with more difficult issues such as warrants issued with a distance radius specifying how far authorities may travel to apprehend absconders.
Increasingly, the media have played larger roles in publicizing the problem of outstanding warrants. Many times, the situation revolves around DWI offenses. Usually, the media reports are fueled by outrage that a death was caused by an individual wanted on outstanding warrants for previous DWI offenses.
Each and every jurisdiction is unique in the laws of the jurisdiction; the number and types of agencies involved in apprehension, adjudication, reparation and rehabilitation of DWI offenders; and the policies and procedures of those agencies. It is understood that cost factors, which require funding sources, are paramount to dealing with this pervasive problem of offenders failing to appear and/or comply. Local agencies can best identify and either provide for these issues or seek outside funding. Therefore, each jurisdiction desiring to make a determination as to how large a problem exists regarding outstanding DWI warrants, must examine the local system and the supporting agencies and, most importantly, the data which are recorded by agencies across the jurisdiction.
The following flowchart provides an example of a process that could be undertaken locally to determine the nature and extent of outstanding DWI warrants. The purpose of the flowchart is to highlight the complexities in attempting to identify the problem. Each of the input and decision points on Figure 39 are simplified statements of what may be an entire process. For example, identifying those offenders who have failed to appear, might involve searching a database maintained by a court, while the same person may have also failed to comply (e.g., payment of a fine) and may be identified by searching probation records and clerk of court records. Determining which are separate cases and which pertain to the same offense could also be difficult if at least two different variables regarding personal identifying information and case information are not recorded by the different agencies' databases. If the same information is captured, then matching records is a possibility, if recorded in similar formats in compatible databases. Otherwise, the matching process becomes more complex.
The input and decision points on Figure 39 are discussed in detail under the bullets following the flowchart, which also include our recommendations. The dotted lines in the flowchart designate ancillary projects to be undertaken as time and resources allow, but on which we have not elaborated. Thus, we recommend that local jurisdictions:
In addition to the points outlined in the flowchart, we would add the following recommendations:
The problem of outstanding warrants appears to be widespread. Currently, the most effective means of handling the problem appear to come from local jurisdictions independently finding solutions. The time has come to move this issue to the forefront of the public safety agenda. The concern of traffic safety professionals across the entire system should be to properly identify any problem within local jurisdictions and to not allow DWI cases to be pushed to the bottom of the outstanding warrant list, such has been happening. Local agencies should be encouraged to take active measures toward dealing with this issue and should be provided as much assistance as possible with adequate funding.
This study has focused on an area that previously has been given very little scrutiny, and the lack of attention is disturbing. The number of outstanding DWI warrants nationwide is not known, but our findings in several jurisdictions at the state and local levels suggest a figure of several million or more. This means untold numbers of absconders and defaulters are using a large loophole in the adjudication and sanctioning processes in jurisdictions across the country. It certainly seems that many offenders who continue to drive while intoxicated or under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, simply have ignored the system, thereby rendering it less effective in its efforts to safeguard the public. This leaves the door open for abuses and recurring instances of illegal behavior, which are dangerous to everyone on the roadways.
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