Prince George’s County Sheriff’s deputies are giving county residents with open misdemeanor warrants a “second chance” to turn themselves in as part of a new initiative to close out the sheriff’s department’s backlogged open warrants — and officials say it’s working.
Since Oct. 15, deputies have been engaged in “The Fall 500,” incrementally mailing out letters to 500 persons with open warrants issued within the last three years for misdemeanor offenses such as theft, shoplifting, trespassing and failing to appear in court.
An initial letter is mailed to a last known address to notify a suspect of their warrant and ask for them to turn themselves in to prevent sheriff’s deputies from coming to their home and physically arresting them, said Cpl. William Milam, a sheriff’s department spokesman.
Department officials have explained the constant struggle deputies face in closing out warrants in a backlog of more than 40,000 open warrants, mostly misdemeanors, and of those, most are for failing to appear in court for a traffic violation.
This wave of mailings in The Fall 500 is a secondary attempt when investigators discover new or different addresses for those with open warrants, Milam said.
“We’ve identified 500 newly-issued warrants, gone and done an investigation to find another address for these warrants, sent out a second letter to get them to turn themselves in and it’s actually working,” Milam said.
As of Dec. 3, 41 warrants have been closed thanks to the effort, which officials said prevents deputies from having to visit an address to serve a misdemeanor warrant in person.
“People move, people forget to do different things. Especially for traffic offenses, it gets by people,” Milam said. “Rather than sending out deputies to a new location, we try to give people the benefit of the doubt.”
Sheriff Melvin C. High has said the department receives more than 100 new warrants daily from county police and municipal police departments, adding to the backlog of those needing to be served.
Upon receiving the letters, the department is giving those with open warrants three weeks to respond before a deputy in the warrant division will come to their address, said Lt. Col. Regina Taylor, the bureau chief of field operations.
Taylor said handling misdemeanor warrants through mail eases the burden on deputies and allows them to focus on investigating felony warrants.
“Warrant division deputies and investigators have a knack for locating people. Where the end result of the investigation is a letter and then a voluntary turn-in to close the warrant, everybody wins,” Taylor said.
While the number of total backlogged warrants is high, the amount of outstanding felony warrants for crimes such as armed robberies, assaults and homicides in the county is less than 500, according to the department.
Acting Capt. William Mints, the department’s assistant bureau chief of field operations, said the initiative is showing positive results thus far as a result of sending the second letter and said sometimes it may be a situation where a person moved addresses just prior to receiving an initial warrant letter.
“We will actively follow-up on each warrant, which for some will mean a knock on the door and physical arrest. We want recipients of these letters to take them seriously,” Mints said. “Ideally, everyone will turn themselves in and avoid the second option.”