This Warrants Further Investigation

   

Understanding the criminal justice system can sometimes be confusing even for many of the professionals in the field. However, we can probably all agree in order to get a good gauge of the effectiveness of the criminal justice system and law enforcement personnel it’s necessary to evaluate sound data. Law enforcement agencies keep crime statistics so they can gauge whether communities are getting safer or more violent. Crash data is kept to determine the most common contributing factors in car accidents. A metric to gauge whether the criminal justice system is operating properly is warrants.

What is a warrant?

According to the Lafayette Parish Sheriff a warrant is a “written order issued by a judge as a basis to arrest a suspect who has ignored a subpoena or a court appearance.” Courts may issue warrants for a person failing to appear in court and when a person is at large on bail. Additionally, an arrest warrant may issued when someone executes an affidavit establishing probable cause that a person has committed an offense.

What happens to a warrant once it is issued?

When a warrant is issued in court the Clerk typically maintains a record of the issuance of the warrant in the individual case file. The Clerk also forwards a copy of the warrant to the Sheriff or Marshal of the court for execution. Clerks normally don’t maintain a listing of warrants issued by the court.

Likewise, arrest warrants issued by a Judge or Magistrate are returned to the law enforcement agency applying for the issuance of an arrest warrant. The Sheriff of each parish generally maintains a database listing of all warrants issued by the district court in his parish. The District Court typically doesn’t maintain a listing of warrants issued by the court.

On-line Database

Many Sheriffs throughout the state provide outstanding warrant information on their websites. That is for those Sheriffs that have the technology to do so and have no fear about being open and transparent with the community. After all, many law enforcement agencies speak of “partnerships” with the community in order to best provide for the safety and security of all. They rely on and depend on an exchange of information to locate fugitives and solve crimes. Others prefer to rely on advanced technologies to spy on all citizens (with the hopes of locating criminals) while undermining civil liberties.

In October of 2016 former Lafayette Parish Sheriff Michael W. Neustrom (D) announced that “due to the tremendous response from the Citizens of Lafayette Parish in calling in over 1100 leads in three days during Operation Clean Up, [he] has once again advanced the technology of his website. The website will now includes all active warrants that the Sheriff’s Office has on file.

If you have been to the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office website lately you will find that the online service Sheriff Neustrom offered after receiving tremendous assistance from the public is no longer available. According to information contained on the website of Sheriff Mark Garber (R): “This notice is to advise the citizens of Lafayette Parish that our JADES (Jail Active Data Environment Systems ) is currently undergoing application upgrades, the upgrade is directly related to the posting of Lafayette Parish Active Warrants. Until upgrades are completed Active Warrants will not be available/posted to the JADES site.” Those alleged system upgrades have been in progress for almost two years now.

Private citizens aren’t the only group of people being denied access to warrant data. Sources have also indicated that the Lafayette Parish Sheriff has withheld this information from surrounding law enforcement agencies by restricting their access to databases and, at times, refusing to confirm whether or not a warrant exists.

How many outstanding warrants are there in Lafayette Parish?

We recently requested a list of “all active arrest warrants, fugitive warrants and bench warrants.” According to sources, that list likely has exceeded 25,000. In response to our request Sheriff Garber through his Public “Affairs” Director John Mowell (no pun intended) responded by stating “The records you requested are exempt from production as defined by RS 44:3 A.(1) because they pertain to pending criminal litigation, therefore, they have not been finally adjudicated.”

We can’t make this stuff up folks! The data that Sheriff Neustrom began publishing online for the citizens of the Parish back in 2016 is suddenly “exempted” under the public records law according to Sheriff Garber and his team. The same warrant information Sheriff Garber previously posted to his Facebook page during his “Warrant Wednesday” campaign is no longer public record according to the Sheriff.

A similar request was sent to the Lafayette City Marshal’s Office. Marshal Thomas didn’t cite any exemptions to the public records law. According to the information and documents received from Marshal Thomas the number of active warrants pending with his office presently exceeds 12,500.

If you want to know why we have a crime issue in Lafayette, consider looking at the Chief Law Enforcement Officer of the Parish and the obstructions he is causing in the criminal justice system.

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If we’re not watching them, who will?

Citizens for a New Louisiana is the only organization in Louisiana dedicated to reforming local government. With the help of numerous volunteers we are making some progress. However, there’s much more work we could be doing. Making a difference will take a little more than reading an article every now and then. Your community doesn’t need another spectator. They need someone willing to step onto the field and become a real part of the solution. Will you join us?

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