In its study of
the process for issuing arrest warrants, the Grand Jury learned there
are approximately 44,000 outstanding warrants in San Mateo County. It
currently takes three to five days for a local police agency to process
a paper warrant after it is issued by the court. This processing time
could be reduced by use of the Criminal Justice Information System (CJIS)
electronic database, which has recently been installed for use by the
San Mateo County Sheriff. The Grand Jury recommends use of the CJIS database
by all police agencies in the county.
It also recommends that the Sheriff and the San Mateo County Police Chiefs
Association consider the use of a county-wide Warrant Detail, operated
by the Sheriff’s Office, to serve warrants for all law enforcement agencies
within the county. Such a Warrant Detail might eventually reduce the backlog
of outstanding warrants.
Issue: Is the warrant system in San Mateo County operating in an
efficient manner that protects the public and fosters respect for and
compliance with the law?
A warrant of arrest
is a court document signed by a judge ordering any law enforcement officer
to arrest a subject for a specific crime. The warrant states the charge,
the amount of bail, and orders the subject brought before a judge.
A bench warrant is issued when the subject has disobeyed a specific order
of the court, (i.e., failure to appear in court as required or failure
to pay a fine). Bench warrants can be issued in civil proceedings without
a prior arrest, or during criminal proceedings.
Once a paper warrant has been issued by the court, it takes three to five
days for the particular law enforcement agency to enter the warrant into
a system. Warrants entered into the Automated Warrant System (AWS), which
is administered by Alameda County, are accessible by all agencies in San
Mateo, San Francisco, Santa Clara and Alameda counties. Warrants entered
into the Wanted Persons System (WPS) are accessible to all law enforcement
agencies in California. Entering a warrant into WPS obligates the issuing
agency to transport the subject from the arresting agency anywhere in
California, or allow the person to be released on their own recognizance
after five days.
The Criminal Justice Information System (CJIS) is a system that allows
immediate electronic entry of a warrant into AWS, followed by a confirming
paper warrant. Effective February 6, 2003, warrants handled by the Sheriff’s
Office are entered into CJIS and can be enforced immediately. In San Mateo
County at this time only the Sheriff’s Office has access to CJIS to enter
The Sheriff’s Office enforces and administers warrants for the unincorporated
sections of the county, for the Probation Department, and under contract
for the cities of Woodside, Portola Valley, Half Moon Bay, and Brisbane.
All other city police departments in the county administer arrest warrants
generated as the result of their individual law enforcement activities.
The Grand Jury interviewed officers from the Sheriff’s Office and city
police departments concerning how arrest warrants are handled. It also
conducted a survey of all city police departments in the county regarding
polices, procedures, and protocols for serving and tracking warrants.
Sheriff's Office estimates that there are about 44,000 outstanding warrants
registered in AWS for San Mateo County. Of these, 9,000 were entered by
the Sheriff's Office and the balance by city police departments. The nature
of the warrant or the bail amount, determine whether a warrant is entered
Both the Sheriff's Office and local police departments use three means to
Efforts within the county to expedite the enforcement of warrants include:
- Notice of a warrant may be mailed to the individual.
- An officer may be assigned to serve warrants, which is usually a lower
priority than “in progress” police work, i.e. necessary responses to
ongoing law enforcement demands.
- An officer engaged in law enforcement activities, such as a traffic
stop, may request outstanding warrant information. If there is an outstanding
warrant, an arrest is at the discretion of the officer.
- An Ad Hoc Task Force that periodically schedules personnel from the
United States Marshal’s Office and various County Sheriff’s Offices
to serve warrants and pick up felony suspects
- A pool of officers from the Sheriff’s Office, the California Highway
Patrol, and city police departments enforce outstanding warrants as
part of a coordinated drunk driving enforcement program and joint programs
focusing on the apprehension of individuals accused of domestic violence.
The current process
for handling paper warrants in the county is cumbersome and inefficient
and leads to delays in serving of warrants. Each law enforcement agency
has its own guidelines and policies concerning warrants.
Typically only serious crimes, such as felonies or violent offenses,
(assault, spousal battering, etc.) and those with bail set at $7,500
or more will result in an arrest on the basis of the outstanding warrant
information. Often a patrol officer has access only to information on
the warrant. More complete criminal information on the suspect, including
the person’s photograph, might result in a better and safer arrest decision.
While there are no reliable statistics available on the percentage of
warrants served in the county, law enforcement officers stated that
more warrants could be served with a concentrated effort on the part
of police agencies. Greater cooperation between city police departments
and the County Sheriff’s Office might bring about speedier and more
efficient service of warrants.
A Warrant Detail operated by the Sheriff’s Office to process and serve
warrants for the county and all cities in the county might bring a higher
priority to warrant activities. This might reduce transmittals and handling
costs, shorten time delays in processing warrants, and allow police
departments to focus on “in progress” law enforcement.