How the traditional warrant process impacts officer safety and a PD's budget

The traditional warrant process needs improvement; at some point, every jurisdiction will have to migrate to an eWarrants system


The time and resources used for the traditional process of writing a warrant are unpredictable and can have implications on officer safety and police departments’ budgets, both large and small. This article outlines the traditional process of writing a warrant, reviews how this archaic process impacts officer safety and discusses why it’s not cost effective. Given the complexities and varying types of warrants (bench, arrest and search), this article will focus on arrest warrants.

Traditional warrant process

There is a general business and legal process that must occur for an arrest warrant to be delivered. To put it in plain terms, an arrest warrant needs to be issued by a judge, a form must be filled out, the arrest warrant needs to be executed or served and then after the warrant is served, it needs to go back to the judge before the defendant appears in court.

Streaming the traditional warrant process to an electronic, real-time system (eWarrants system) will bring improvements in three areas. (Photo/PoliceOne)
Streaming the traditional warrant process to an electronic, real-time system (eWarrants system) will bring improvements in three areas. (Photo/PoliceOne)

Most jurisdictions in the United States have a very archaic, manual warrant process. Sure, in the last 20 years, law enforcement agencies and the courts started leveraging fax machines and storing warrant data (after being manually entered) in a database, but there are still several business process improvements that can be made to streamline the traditional arrest warrant process. Before going into what these business process improvements are, a discussion about the value of making these changes is warranted (pun intended).

The value of eWarrants

Streaming the traditional warrant process to an electronic, real-time system (eWarrants system) will bring improvements in three areas:

  1. Officer safety. Most police officers know that issuing an arrest warrant can quickly evolve into a high-risk operation. Many police departments rely on SWAT or tactical teams to serve arrest warrants. The number of officers shot and even killed in the line of duty while serving an arrest warrant is too many. Having accurate, real-time information about the subject will improve officer safety.
  2. Data integrity. There are several data integrity issues with the traditional warrant process that impacts business operations efficiency for police departments (and the courts). Several jurisdictions have a tremendous volume of warrants to be processed, but police departments do not have the pertinent information they need to serve a warrant (e.g., subject information or whether the warrant is active). These jurisdictions are using multiple systems to figure out whether an officer can even act on the arrest warrant.
  3. Budget management. Hundreds of thousands of personnel hours are being spent in every state every year on arrest warrants. This includes creating the warrant (Grand Jury Indictment, police investigations, failure to appear or probation/parole violation); maintaining the warrant (warrant packing, warrant entry, warrant validation and warrant hit confirmation); and serving the warrant. The traditional warrant process is cost intensive for police departments, the courts and jurisdictions. Automating the arrest warrants process by using an eWarrants system will save police departments significant money in the long-run.

Next steps

If a police department is considering changing the traditional warrants process to an automated, electronic workflow, there are several steps to take:

  • Establish a task force of end-users to discuss and document the need for an eWarrants system. This task force should include police chiefs, police officers, police records personnel, warrant officers, court clerks, judges and IT personnel from each entity.
  • Perform an internal review or study to assess how much time your department is spending on the traditional warrants process. At a minimum, include the number of personnel hours spent on arrest warrants each year and the number of outstanding active arrest warrants. Review any legislation that may impact whether your agency can accept electronic signatures.
  • Schedule conference calls, meetings and even web demonstrations with agencies that implemented an eWarrants system. Learn about their challenges and how they overcame them.
  • Schedule demos with eWarrants system providers. Find out what is commercially available and how much customization your jurisdiction will need to establish an eWarrants system.

The traditional warrant process needs to be improved, and at some point, every jurisdiction will have to migrate to an eWarrants system. Police departments will be well-served by investing time and energy in the steps outlined above to guide their decision in how to move into the future.

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