Hundreds of crime suspects in Schenectady have not been arrested, even though warrants have been issued, and police are now trying to figure out who they should go after first.
The Police Department has not executed 200 arrest warrants for felonies and 800 for misdemeanors, some dating back as far as 1994, Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett said.
In each case, police had enough evidence to convince a judge that an arrest was warranted. But now some of the warrants are so old that the statute of limitations has expired and the suspect cannot be arrested.
“I would venture to say many of the felonies have exceeded their statute of authority,” Bennett said.
Typically, police have five years to make an arrest from the time the warrant is issued. Murder and kidnapping warrants never expire and officers can discount any time in which the suspect was out of the country, but Bennett said most of the outstanding warrants fall under the normal limitations.
Officers are now working to cull out those warrants and prioritize the rest of the felonies in order of severity. Officers will then start looking for suspects accused of the most serious crimes first, Bennett said.
It won’t be easy to get to that point. The department’s computerized warrant system is so antiquated that Bennett isn’t certain that there are no murder warrants on the list.
He doubts a murder warrant would slip through the cracks, but he can’t determine when each warrant was issued, nor can he learn details of each offense. The computers also cannot list the warrants in reverse order of issuance — oldest first — or offer a list of the most serious felonies.
So police will have to go through them by hand to prioritize the warrants and determine which ones are no longer enforceable.
“It’s not only a paperwork nightmare, it is labor-intensive,” Bennett said.
Regular patrol officers will handle the search for each suspect once the felony warrants are prioritized. He said that would be the only way of finding such a large number of criminals at once.
Police keep an eye out for certain suspects, but they don’t typically spend their patrols searching for warrant evaders. They don’t have to — most of the city’s suspects turn themselves in once a warrant is issued. Of the 1,600 warrants issued each year, 1,500 are served, Bennett said.
So many people turn themselves in that the city has just one warrant officer, and he spends most of his time interviewing witnesses and preparing paperwork, not tracking down suspected felons.
NUMBERS ADD UP
“The 100 that don’t get served, it’s for a lot of reasons. We can’t find them. They don’t surrender,” Bennett said.
Those outstanding warrants add up over time. Even so, Bennett — who has been in charge of the Schenectady Police Department for a year — isn’t quite sure how the city ended up with such a backlog. By contrast, Troy has 20 outstanding felony warrants and 100 misdemeanor warrants. Saratoga has a total of 300 and Amsterdam has 200, but both those cities report that the vast majority are for failure to appear in court and minor violations, including failure to pay court-ordered fines.
Schenectady has 2,600 outstanding warrants in total.
Bennett said he was surprised by the figure, which he discovered after City Councilman Gary McCarthy requested a detailed accounting of the outstanding warrants last week. McCarthy, who runs the council’s Public Safety Committee and is also an investigator for the county District Attorney’s Office, held a closed-door discussion on the topic during Monday’s City Council committees meeting.
He said beforehand that he wants to create a policy within a month to address the issue.
“You can’t have that many warrants outstanding,” he said.
Bennett agreed. “We need to obviously reduce this number,” Bennett said. “But I don’t think it’s a public emergency — it’s not like we’re not staying on top of the most serious.”
He’s not sure how to avoid such a backlog in the future, but said he might use the figures to argue in favor of bail for minor offenses. The city has 1,216 outstanding warrants for failure to appear in court.
As for the felonies and misdemeanors, he’s not sure whether it’s possible to completely eliminate the backlog.
In Troy, police regularly turn to the NY-NJ Regional Fugitives Task Force, Albany Division, to bring in their suspects.
“We have an extremely aggressive warrant program here,” said Troy Sgt. David Dean, who serves on the task force. “We notify them as soon as a warrant is issued for a violent crime.”
Even misdemeanor warrants are sent to the task force if they involve violence, he said.
“We like to say we start our day arresting our people in Schenectady and Albany on our warrants before they get back here to re-offend,” Dean said.
The Schenectady police ask the taskforce for help too, but not on every felony warrant.
“We realize their workload is quite high,” Bennett said. “So we try to limit the ones we give them. We feel it allows them to focus on the most serious cases.”
Task force Deputy Chairman Michael Woerner said his group is ready to help if the city asks for assistance.
“We have 20 people on the task force so we can dedicate a lot more manpower to look for people. They call us, we’ll send six to eight bodies over immediately,” he said.
The police have difficulty finding some suspects because they don’t have fixed addresses, he added.
“Many people don’t have houses, mortgages, credit cards,” he said. “But when it’s all said and done, we pretty much catch everybody we’re looking for. That’s all we do.”
More from The Daily Gazette:
Categories: Schenectady County