Sheriff: Our duty warrants arrests
That was Rock County Sheriff’s Bob Spoden response when asked why his deputies are actively seeking people wanted on warrants even though the jail is crowded, the county is seeking alternatives to incarceration and an expensive jail expansion/renovation project is on the horizon.
Before October, deputies typically made warrant arrests incidental to other events—a traffic stop or questioning someone as a witness or victim, for example.
But in October, the sheriff’s department started actively targeting people wanted on criminal warrants. The effort involves teams of deputies and grew out of a nationwide program in August to arrest people wanted on warrants for crimes involving domestic violence, Lt. Jim Dilley explained.
But the sweeps also netted some people who had “arrest warrant commitments,” which are issued for non-payment of fines. That raised the question of the department’s priorities.
People who are put on the deputies’ target lists are criminals, not simply deadbeat traffic offenders, Dilley explained.
People wanted for misdemeanors—minor crimes—make the list, but the chief priority is arresting those who have committed crimes against people, starting with “egregious, heinous” offenses, Dilley said.
But criminals often are not specialists.
A person wanted for burglary or battery, for instance, could easily also be wanted for not paying one or several fines, said Cmdr. Tom Gehl, who administers the Rock County Jail.
And when deputies go into a neighborhood or home looking for a criminal, they often encounter other people who are wanted simply on an arrest warrant commitments.
As police officers, deputies will not ignore an arrest warrant commitment because, Gehl pointed out, they are orders from a judge to make an arrest—just as a criminal arrest warrant is.
But, Dilley said, deputies are not hunting for people who owe fines for traffic offenses, Department of Natural Resources violations or overdue library books.
Since October, deputies have arrested some 40 people in their targeted sweeps, but the number of warrants cleared was higher because many of the people arrested each had several warrants.
While the jail remains crowded, the number of local inmates Rock County must house elsewhere has dropped substantially—to about 20 currently—largely because of increased use of electronic monitoring and home confinement, Spoden said.
Of the jail’s 583 inmates, 38 are there solely for non-payment of fines, Gehl reported.
That number remains fairly level, he said.
Of the county’s current 5,293 active warrants, the lion’s share—3,512—are arrest warrant commitments, Spoden reported.
People can sit out their fines in jail at a rate of $55 a day.
Spoden plans to start a program called “workender” in a few months that will put people who owe fines to work on community-service projects to pay the fines they owe.
An eight-hour workday would equal a $55 payment, he said.
In the meantime, if deputies pick up people on arrest warrant commitments, they can pay their fines or sit behind bars.
The sheriff will continue to actively hunt people wanted on criminal warrants.
“We have a lot of people in our community who have outstanding warrants that are a risk to the community,” Spoden said. “We want people to know that in Rock County, if you’re wanted, it may not be today or tomorrow, we will come after you.”