The Harris County Sheriff’s Office is lacking staff (as are many agencies) and it’s this shortage that’s being blamed for a serious backlog of warrants. As of last week, the office had about 10,088 felony warrants and 19,748 misdemeanor warrants that had yet to be entered into the state database. Without such entry, law enforcement officers have no way of knowing someone is wanted in connection with a crime.
When the Sheriff’s Office receives a warrant from an officer, ideally that warrant would be entered in the system right away. This would allow any officer across the state who may do a traffic stop, for instance, to check the database and immediately know a suspect had an outstanding warrant. Though that’s what happens in most counties across the state, Harris County can’t seem to keep up.
According to the Houston Chronicle, the Sheriff employs three clerks whose sole job is to enter warrants in the database. Currently, those clerks are forced to prioritize the warrants, entering those for serious offenses like rape, murder, or those especially requested by officers to be entered immediately.
Though Sheriff Adrian Garcia requested additional funds to hire more clerks, that request was denied. Another agency, in Bexar County, had a similar problem a few years ago and solved their issue by increasing staff.
Harris County receives about 3,000 warrants per month and current staffing levels simply can’t keep up with the nonstop flow of such warrants. Those Class A and B misdemeanor warrants could sit for a significant amount of time before they are ever entered, potentially affecting the cases down the road and, the Sheriff worries, public safety.
According to the Chronicle, however, this isn’t just a recent problem. The agency has had backlog to some degree for the last 20 years. Other law enforcement agencies within the area are aware of the problem, though the Sheriff says he never explicitly told anyone.
It doesn’t seem that there is any immediate solution to the problem, unless the flow of warrants suddenly slows or if the department gets additional staff. In the meantime, they will continue to prioritize, entering the most serious warrants first while non-family violence misdemeanors take the lowest priority.
This doesn’t mean it’s time to celebrate if you are one of the thousands whose warrant has not been entered. There’s always a chance that a local law enforcement officer knows your warrant exists without it being in the system. Also, these warrants will eventually be entered, so you are not off scot-free.
If you believe you have an outstanding warrant, for failure to appear or any reason and are in need of legal counsel, contact our offices today to discuss your case.