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Warrants, without the wait

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Judicial system launches system to streamline info between cops, courts

By Ben Carlson

A Lawrenceburg man blows off a court appearance in Louisville, convinced that it will take a week or two before police here will be wised up to the bench warrant issued by a Jefferson County judge.

Tough luck, pal. Thanks to a new electronic warrant filing system installed here and in neighboring counties last week, local police have your bench warrant at their fingertips and will probably show up at your door before sundown.
The new eWarrant (electronic warrant) system went online last Tuesday in the 53rd Judicial District, which includes Anderson, Shelby, Spencer counties. It allows police officers to electronically file complaints, which can immediately be viewed and signed by judges. That allows officers to act immediately in making an arrest vs. what could be waiting hours or even days under the old system.
“It’s all about instant access and efficiency,” said Sheriff Troy Young, whose office teamed up last week with County Attorney Bobbi Jo Lewis’ office to unveil the new system.
Young said the Jefferson County scenario is one that took place on a regular basis. Under the old system, a warrant would be issued and signed, sent to the clerk’s office for processing and then it would be mailed to Anderson County.
“It would probably take a week,” Young said. “Now, as soon as someone doesn’t show up in court, the bench warrant is sent to us electronically, and our file shows that you committed an offense.
“Now, instead of waiting a week, we’re going to come pay you a visit that day at your house.”
The eWarrant system is fairly simple for police officers. Along with retrieving warrants filed in other counties, they can also request a warrant from their office computer or mobile data terminal in their patrol cars. It can then be viewed by the county attorney and passed along to a judge who can approve it and allow the officer to serve the warrant or complaint within minutes instead of hours.
“An officer did a warrant in my office last Tuesday,” said Lewis, the county attorney. “Before, the officer would have had to come to my office, then see a trial commissioner or judge.
“That, on average, could take an hour and a half or longer. This one was done and approved in 10 minutes.”
Paid for with federal stimulus funds, the system is currently in use in seven other counties, with a goal of making it statewide.
The system is also more efficient for judges.
District Court Judge Linda Armstrong said she now can work on requests from any county no matter where she’s working.
“Everything from all three counties comes directly to my inbox,” she said. “If I authorize a warrant, it could be on LINK [Law Enforcement Information Network of Kentucky] within 15 minutes. Now, when we’re on call, police officers don’t have to hunt us down to sign warrants.”
Armstrong said she can sign warrants from any computer, at home or work, and even from her phone.
“The Campbell County judge was approving warrants from her phone while in St. Croix,” she said.
Young, the sheriff, said the system will also make it easier for police officers to serve older warrants and summonses.
“Instead of getting pushed to the bottom of the pile, they’re always going to be active and in the system,” Young said. “There isn’t going to be any more thumbing through all of the warrants, looking for John Q. Citizen. Now, we can bring them up by street or name and get a lot of the older stuff cleared out.”
Young said the new system will also help avoid mistakes because it allows all police officers to know the moment a warrant has been served.
Young said the system will allow circuit court clerks to rest easier at night.
“If it’s the middle of the night and we have someone stopped and need to check a warrant, we’ve had to wake up clerks and have them come down to open up the files,” he said.

—includes reporting by Todd Martin of the Sentinel-News in Shelbyville

E-mail Ben Carlson at bcarlson@theandersonnews.com.