Database missing 19 felony warrants
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By Jim Dooley
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Jim Dooley
A 21-year-old man involved in a violent confrontation with police Tuesday was wanted on a felony arrest warrant issued nearly two months ago, but the warrant was never entered into Honolulu police computers.
At least 18 other warrants approved by O'ahu judges since November for the arrest of suspects accused of felony offenses were not included in HPD's computer database, according to state and city officials.
Because of the problem, police officers were not aware that the suspected felons named in the warrants were wanted for arrest until the error was discovered this week.
State Judiciary officials said yesterday they do not know what caused the problem but are satisfied that it is not associated with their $13 million court computer system called JIMS installed in November.
Courts spokeswoman Marsha Kitagawa said technology experts don't know how many felony warrants may be missing from police computers and "can only speculate" about the source of the error.
Data may have been entered incorrectly, preventing transfer of the warrants to police, or "there may be programming problems with the city's system or the (state) warrants system," Kitagawa said.
Michelle Yu, police spokeswoman, said the department's information technology personnel are working with the state to identify and fix the problem.
Four of the missing warrants were issued by the Hawai'i Paroling Authority for felony offenders who violated the terms of their parole.
"It's a serious problem from our standpoint," said Tommy Johnson, paroling authority administrator. "We wish we'd known about it sooner."
Johnson, who learned of the computer glitch from The Advertiser, stressed that he wasn't assigning blame for the missing warrants, just expressing concern for the safety of the public and police officers.
"Police should know when they pull someone over if that person has an active parole violation arrest warrant outstanding," he said.
Among the individuals named in the missing warrants is Dempsey Macaraeg, 21, who was charged with auto theft, criminal property damage and drug offenses after he allegedly tried to elude arrest Tuesday by smashing a stolen pickup truck into two police vehicles in Hale'iwa.
Macaraeg and two passengers surrendered only after a police sergeant stopped the truck by firing a bullet into one of its tires, according to HPD reports.
In an apparent coincidence, the missing felony warrants were first discovered Saturday after someone from HPD called the state Sheriffs Division to ask why a warrant issued Feb. 28 for Macaraeg's arrest wasn't in the police computer, officials said.
The Sheriffs Division receives O'ahu bench warrants from the courts and enters them in state computers, which are then supposed to automatically transmit the information to Honolulu police.
The HPD caller, whose identity couldn't be determined yesterday, knew that Macaraeg — awaiting trial on auto theft and drug charges — was wanted for arrest because he had violated the terms of his pre-trial release, according to sheriffs personnel. Yet the Feb. 28 warrant wasn't in the police database.
Melva Ferreira, the sheriffs' chief warrants clerk, began looking into the HPD inquiry when she returned to work Monday.
Her office had entered the Macaraeg warrant in the state computer system when it was first received from the courts in early March, Ferreira determined, but it somehow had not appeared in the HPD computer system.
Over the next three days, Ferreira discovered 18 other felony warrants that hadn't made it to HPD, she said. The felony warrants involve such charges as trafficking in crystal methamphetamine, robbery, theft, forgery and drug possession.
There is no immediate way of knowing if police could have earlier arrested Macaraeg or any of the other wanted suspects had they known about the warrants.
Macaraeg was taken into custody following his dramatic arrest Tuesday and his outstanding felony arrest warrant was served on him Wednesday night. He was being held yesterday in lieu of $50,000 bail.
Police spokeswoman Yu said she could not find out who in the department made the call to the sheriffs about Macaraeg over the weekend or if the caller wanted to arrest the fugitive then but did not because the warrant was unavailable.
City Prosecutor Peter Carlisle said yesterday: "This is the first I've heard of this problem. It's not good, I can tell you that. If there are felony warrants out there, they have to be served."
Two of the missing warrants were issued by state Attorney General Mark Bennett's office for the arrest of individuals accused of first- and second-degree theft.
"Obviously, all of the individuals and entities responsible should get together to make sure that felony warrants reach the police department," Bennett said.
News of the missing felony warrants follows disclosures that more than 6,000 arrest warrants for misdemeanor criminal traffic offenders have been stuck in the Judiciary's JIMS computer system since it went online last year.
As first reported by The Advertiser in February, there are nearly 77,000 unserved arrest warrants in the hands of local law enforcement agencies that don't have the manpower or money to serve them all.
Of the statewide total, nearly 47,000 traffic warrants were created well before the new Judiciary computer system was installed. Problems with that new system has added an estimated 6,500 new warrants to the backlog.
This week, 500 of those new warrants were finally delivered to the Sheriffs Division, personnel there said. All of the new warrants were issued by O'ahu traffic court judges in November. Warrants issued since then are still being hand-processed by court personnel for later delivery to sheriffs.
Bennett has called for creation of a task force to find ways to reduce or permanently eliminate the growing backlog of unserved bench warrants.
Reach Jim Dooley at firstname.lastname@example.org.