Local News

Durham funds program to catch up on unserved warrants

Posted November 6, 2008 5:40 p.m. EST
Updated November 7, 2008 10:26 a.m. EST

— The City Council voted Thursday to fund a joint program with Durham County to reduce a growing backlog of unserved arrest warrants.

More than 60,000 warrants dating to 1977 haven't been served because officers and deputies can't locate the people involved, authorities said.

"When you go to the houses, you really try to talk to people and find out where (suspects) live, and a lot of times, they don't live there, or it is family members and they aren't willing to give them up," said Cpl. J.P. Carden, a warrant officer with the Durham County Sheriff's Office.

The stack of unserved warrants grows by about 900 each month, said Chief Deputy Mike Andrews.

"Over a period of a year, you are looking at 10,000 (to) 11,000 warrants (not served), and in 10 years, you are looking at 100,000," Andrews said.

By comparison, Cumberland County had more than 6,500 unserved warrants last year and has more than 4,800 so far this year.

The deaths of Duke University graduate student Abhijit Mahato and University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill student body president Eve Carson prompted Durham officials to look at changing the warrant-service process.

The suspects in both cases were on probation at the time of the slayings and had outstanding warrants that hadn't been served.

"We're just trying to shore up any loose ends that we may have," Andrews said.

Officials decided to create a central warrant office, with the city and county splitting the $485,000 cost. The office will include a common computer system that police, deputies, magistrates and court clerks can access, and eight more people have been hired – four deputies and four clerks – to serve and process warrants.

In addition to the new office, the Durham County District Attorney David Saacks said his prosecutors are trying to cut down on some of the backlog by dismissing some warrants for minor offenses, such as worthless checks, that are at least five years old.

Andrews said it's still important to follow through on all crimes.

"It's just another way of trying to do our job and do it more effectively and let the public know that we are out here attentively looking for those people," he said.