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Friday, May. 16, 2008

Sheriff's warrants now available online

eschmidt@theolathenews.com

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A new online database allows anyone to search outstanding warrants in Johnson County.

Sheriff’s Department spokesman Tom Erickson said the searchable database was helpful to the department. The main reason is that it gets information out to the public.

“The public is curious, and a lot of times, curiosity solves crimes,” Erickson said.

It’s been too soon since the May 7 debut of the feature to determine its benefits, but Erickson suspects it has had an effect.

“The day of and the day after, the daily hits shot up,” Erickson said of the site’s debut. “It took the site down for a little while.”

Erickson said page views for a normal day hovered around 8,000. On the day the feature opened, the site had 47,000 hits and 53,000 the following day. The traffic hasn’t slowed down.

At least one warrant has been cleared since the site went up. It was a person the department learned had died. The department also has received tips on others.

Another benefit of the database is that it makes the booking process easier for offenders, he said. If people search the site and find they have a warrant they may not have known about, they can arrange to turn themselves in and make it easier on themselves.

“Otherwise, they’re coming in on our terms, and it becomes a much, much bigger ordeal than it needs to be,” Erickson said.

Erickson said most of the people listed in the database aren’t violent. They usually just have an issue they need to correct with the courts.

The idea for the searchable database, Erickson said, came from the popularity of the department’s “Most Wanted” feature and from the success of Sedgwick County’s similar site. After deliberation and contact with Sedgwick County officials, the department went ahead with the plan to put all warrants — minus probable-cause and juvenile warrants — online with basic information about the offenders. The notable difference between the Sedgwick and Johnson County sites is that Johnson County’s uses offender mug shots. Erickson said it was a feature that underwent much scrutiny and deliberation before being approved.

“As much as we want people in jail, we don’t want to do anything to put them in jeopardy,” Erickson said.

Ultimately, the decision to use photos came down to being the right decision for the department at the time.

“We ended up thinking that having the photo on there is a big help,” he said. “People tend to remember faces better than they do names, so it’s more open to the public.”

The system is also 100 percent automated, meaning that the chances of someone being pulled in for a warrant that’s been taken care of or someone being confused with another person are slim to none.

The database can be viewed at www.jocosheriff.org and clicking on “Warrant Division” and then “Warrant Search.” One can search the database either by offender name or city. It covers all cities in Johnson County.

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