The police have redoubled their efforts to serve arrest warrants from as far back as 1994, but hundreds of accused criminals have still not been found.
Last year, the City Council discovered that warrants had been building up for more than a decade, with 200 felony warrants and 800 misdemeanor warrants never served.
Some of the warrants were so old that they had to be thrown out, the accused saved by the statute of limitations.
Police don’t have records on how many warrants expired, but they have served 97 of the old warrants in the past four months, including eight arrests based on warrants written before 2002. They also made 455 arrests on current warrants, improving their arrest rate by 10 percent over last year.
But there’s a long way to go. They now have 2,064 warrants in total, down from 2,600 a year ago. The number is not quite as low as the number of arrests they have made because new warrants have been issued while they worked on the old ones.
Half of the remaining warrants are less serious bench warrants, issued after the accused appeared in court but failed to pay a fine or meet other court requirements, Assistant Chief Brian Kilcullen said.
Police are more concerned about the other 985 — the outstanding warrants for felonies and misdemeanors. In each case, police investigated a crime, identified the perpetrator and convinced a court to issue a warrant — but never closed the case with an arrest.
Schenectady has one of the nation’s worst percentages of closed cases — its 7 percent rate for burglaries is half of the national average, as is its 20 percent rate for rapes, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
The city also has an unusually high number of unserved warrants. Troy, by comparison, had just 20 outstanding warrants for felonies last year, when Schenectady had 200.
Now, the city has 187 felony warrants still on the books, although some of those are less than a year old.
Police are now cutting back on issuing warrants while also searching for suspects during every patrol shift in an attempt to eliminate the backlog, Kilcullen said.
It’s not easy. Suspects have often moved to a new residence in the years since they were accused of a crime, making the old warrants nearly impossible to serve.
“Certainly, attempts are being made,” Kilcullen said. “But especially with the old ones, the addresses aren’t correct.”
Each patrol officer is now given a packet of warrants to serve each week, which has led to some success, Kilcullen said.
He isn’t quite sure why that was not being done before. He became assistant chief on March 1, well after the backlog was discovered.
“It’s not that we got away from it, but we didn’t have the opportunity as often. Their priority is matters that are happening currently,” Kilcullen said. “Now we’re giving them out with basically a time period in which they have to be returned [served].”
Officers generally have a week to find their suspects.
The city’s lone warrants officer is also studying officer paperwork more closely before asking for a warrant. That has reduced the number of new warrants markedly, particularly in domestic abuse cases, Kilcullen said.
Officers follow a pro-arrest policy in domestic abuse cases, making immediate arrests if they believe a crime has been committed. If the offending party is not on scene, they ask for a warrant. Those used to be issued rapidly.
“Now the warrant officer reads it first for deficiencies — does the affidavit not support the crime that’s being alleged? We’re trying to get our paperwork in order up front,” Kilcullen said.
The department has also stopped accepting cross-complaint warrant requests, in which the arrested party files a complaint against the people who filed the original complaint, with both groups referring to the same incident.
Usually, the department agreed to issue warrants for both sides.
“We didn’t do enough research. Far too often, that happened,” Kilcullen said. “Now, we tell them no. We did the investigation, determined who had criminal responsibility for what happened, made an arrest. Now it’s up to the DA.”