Officers Arrest Fewer Drivers With Traffic Warrants
POSTED: Thursday, July 12, 2012 - 10:45pm
UPDATED: Monday, July 30, 2012 - 10:38am
EL PASO, TX — According to jail records, police are arresting fewer drivers who have existing traffic warrants. Newschannel 9 is told the reasons come down to time and money, but as a result, the road may become a more dangerous place for all El Pasoans.
If police stop a driver, check the records and discover the driver already has a traffic warrant or class c misdemeanor warrant they're certain to make an arrest, or so you'd think. The number of class c arrests have dropped in El Paso the last five years.
According to jail records, in 2007, Police arrested nearly 16,000 offenders. Last year, officers handcuffed less than half that many, a little more than 7,000.
Why are so many traffic offenders getting off the hook? Is it a lack of resources?
"It's not the lack of resources in general,” said Sgt. Chris Mears with the El Paso Police Department. “It's gonna be based on the time of day and how many calls are pending, what's going on.”
Is it a lack of jail space?
"We have enough space at this point that we have the capacity of leasing out over 700 beds to the U.S. Marshals service," said El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles.
The police department said officers can use discretion depending on how busy they are that day.
It can take up to three hours to book someone into the county jail so El Paso PD said sometimes a driver may get away with just a reminder to pay their old tickets.
"The best course of action would be if the person can pay it, right then, follow them to the station or the municipal court and have him or her pay and be on their way. But perhaps remind the person you have these outstanding warrant. You need to take care of it,” said Mears.
Police also said arresting someone is not the best option financially.
"If we book someone into the county jail and they spend three days in jail and they have $300 of tickets, they get credit for time served in jail and it could be so the city never gets the money, the state never gets the money from the traffic violation," said Mears. "Obviously from a financial stand point that's not gonna be your first choice of action to take as a law enforcement officer."
So we asked, are these people breaking the law and not being punished?
"Sure. They should be punished but it's not the police department's job to punish them. That's not our job," said Mears.
According to jail records, from 2008 to 2009, officers' arrests for class c charges dropped by more than 6,000.
"I know it has something to do with booking fees and how much we were paying every time we book someone. I know that's been resolved in the current contract with the sheriff's office," said Mears.
Sheriff Wiles said those booking and processing fees were about $100 per inmate.
In 2010, the U.S. Attorney General waived those fees from the city and now the city pays the county a Fixed rate yearly.
That's when, police said the order to stop arresting class c misdemeanor offenders was rescinded.
"We make a lot of class c misdemeanor arrests. Last month, for the month of June, over 3,400 municipal warrants were booked into the county jail," said Mears.
Sheriff Wiles says if deputies pull over a driver with a traffic warrant, they'll first ask if the driver can pay it and if they can't, the driver is arrested.
"We do have the resources. You get stopped by a deputy and you have a traffic violation that was issued by a deputy or a state trooper, we will execute that warrant," said Sheriff Wiles.
He said it would be a double-edged sword if EPPD class c arrests pick up again.
The county jails house federal inmates and gets money from the federal government.
Last year, the county received $17.7 million.
"That is certainly going to overwhelm our capacity to hold prisoners and we'd have to reduce the number of federal prisoners, which reduces income coming in the county and may even get us to the point where we're completely full even without the federal prisoners," said Sheriff Wiles.
Both departments said even though class c arrests are down in El Paso, drivers should not expect a hall pass.
"People should definitely take care of their traffic tickets, not let them turn into warrants and if they do turn into warrants, they need to address them and take care of it," said Sheriff Wiles.