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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, December 14, 2006

Warrants backlog sees slight reduction

By Jim Dooley
Advertiser Staff Writer

There were 73,925 unserved arrest warrants sitting in law enforcement file cabinets statewide as of August, according to the latest figures from the state judiciary.

The numbers are slightly down from the 76,881 total determined by an Advertiser analysis published in February of the outstanding arrest warrant problem.

A new "paperless" warrant system touted by the judiciary as a tool to significantly reduce the warrants backlog has yet to go into effect.

The new system, in which "electronic" copies of warrants are stored in law enforcement computers and printed out when necessary, was supposed to go online last year. Now courts personnel can't say when it will be operational.

"Judiciary officials are exploring the feasibility of implementing a paperless warrant system with a particular consultant and believe it is too early to be able to determine when the project will be implemented," said court spokeswoman Marsha Kitagawa.

The paperless warrants were supposed to be part of the $13 million first phase of the judiciary's new JIMS computer system, which went operational in November 2005.

But courts personnel this year had to go to the Legislature for amendments to state law allowing judges' signatures and court seals to be electronically imprinted on the warrants. Those changes were enacted this year, but there are still unspecified glitches in the system.

In response to news stories about unserved arrest warrants, the Legislature created two nearly identical task forces to study the issue and recommend improvements to the system.

Kitagawa said that the judiciary and the state attorney general's office agreed to combine the work of the two task forces, and the collective committee has been meeting to discuss the warrants problem since August. It is finishing a report for submission to the 2007 Legislature, she said.

According to data released by Kitagawa this month, there were 51,392 unserved traffic court arrest warrants statewide as of August, with 42,041 of them on O'ahu. Traffic warrants on O'ahu are the responsibility of the state Sheriffs Division and are held in filing cabinets in an office at the state Capitol. County police serve traffic court arrest warrants on the Neighbor Islands.

The backlog of traffic warrants was considerably higher before the JIMS computer was activated, but 37,000 old warrants were "purged" from law enforcement files when the new system began operating.

Judiciary and sheriffs division personnel had earlier estimated that a much smaller number of old warrants 25,000 had been eliminated.

The new backlogged warrant total includes a category that hadn't been discussed before by law enforcement or the courts misdemeanor arrests.

According to the recently released data from Kitagawa, there were 19,810 such warrants outstanding statewide, with all but about 3,500 of them held by the Honolulu Police Department.

Attempts to obtain more information from HPD about the misdemeanor warrants were unsuccessful.

Reach Jim Dooley at jdooley@honoluluadvertiser.com.