County cracking down on old warrants; 42,000 fugitives in the county
[Contra Costa County, CA]

Erin Hallissy
FEBRUARY 26, 2001, Monday, Final Edition Copyright 2001 The Chronicle Publishing Co. The San Francisco Chronicle FEBRUARY 26, 2001, Monday, Final Edition

(CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, Calif.) -- More than 42,000 fugitives are wanted in Contra Costa County, and they may soon find out that police are trying harder to catch them. Many of the wanted people face minor charges, such as failing to appear in court for traffic tickets or not fulfilling probation requirements like alcohol-education courses. But hundreds are also on the lam in more serious cases, including robbery and murder, said Chief Deputy District Attorney Dale Miller.

Last month, a man wanted for failing to show up at jail to serve a burglary sentence was shot dead by Walnut Creek police investigating reports of possible fraud at an electronics store.

"With a little more effort (serving warrants), you can get someone off the street and you can avert some crimes," Miller said.

Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Gayle Uilkema is pushing for a warrant review board, a proposal that will be considered by supervisors tomorrow.

Uilkema said she was shocked to learn how many warrants are gathering dust instead of being served.

"People have the idea that they can ignore the courts and ignore these warrants," she said. "To my point of view, that means my community is not as safe as it should be."

Contra Costa's unserved warrants are just part of a huge number of unserved warrants statewide. The Chronicle reported in 1999 that more than 2.5 million unserved warrants had piled up in California.

Police occasionally do warrants sweeps. In December, officers from 25 agencies in Contra Costa County arrested 67 people on drunken-driving warrants in a one-day crackdown.

Uilkema has met with judges and law enforcement officials to come up with her proposal. It calls for the sheriff, the district attorney, the Superior Court presiding judge and the county administrator's office to work on the warrant review board, and for the sheriff's office to add two people, a specialist and a senior clerk, to work full time on warrants.

Miller said it will be good not to let unserved warrants stack up.

"If there's some way we can cut down by putting a little extra effort in there to cut down the number of outstanding warrants, we're all better off for it," he said.

Often people wanted on warrants must pay assessments of up to $250. In 1998, for example, San Diego County, which has made concerted efforts to serve all warrants, collected nearly $16 million in fines and assessments on warrants.

Uilkema said the program should be self-supporting once fines start coming in and could even end up making money.

"It may be revenue-producing. It doesn't cost anything. And it's a serious problem that needs to be addressed," she said.

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