Lancaster County announces a new procedure for the service and execution of its approximately 100,000 active warrants related to criminal charges, traffic/parking tickets, and civil/landlord matters.
Under the current system, constables do most warrant-service work, reimbursed per piece, under what is essentially an a la carte payment system.
That system is due for reform, logistically and fiscally. Prior efforts to provide stricter oversight of the service of warrants, which included a proposed operating handbook for constables, have been unsuccessful.
“The county has been attempting to add accountability and get some of the costs under control,” Lancaster County Commissioner Scott Martin said at a Wednesday press event.
Lancaster County President Judge said: “We’ve had enough. It’s time to look at different approaches.”
Hence, the reform transition is upon us. The new model, developed by Lancaster County Sheriff Mark Reese’s office, will transfer custody of all warrants to the sheriff. Constables will no longer hold warrants without approval of the sheriff. Too often, constables held warrants indefinitely, resulting in costs for repeated attempts to serve a single warrant over a period of time – taxpayer funds that may or may not have led to the defendant being taken into custody.
”There’s no longer going to be (unserved) warrants sitting in the back of trunks somewhere,” Commissioner Martin said.
Lancaster County President Judge Dennis Reinaker will sign an order allowing for this reform to go into effect.
The sheriff’s custody of all warrants means his office will actively serve those warrants. Most deputy sheriffs already do that; additional deputies will be hired to assist with the increased workload. All deputy sheriffs are paid a set salary, regardless of how many warrants they serve. This eliminates, for the most part, the piecemeal payment system – which costs the county, on average, an estimated $2 million each year. Sheriff Reese’s office learned much from Westmoreland County, which moved to a similar warrant system a few years ago.
“We’re going to be saving the county a lot of money,” Sheriff Reese said at the event.
Under Lancaster County’s current model, many offenders with unpaid traffic tickets, particularly the county’s many scofflaws, face insurmountable debt. Much of this debt is not only from the costs for a ticket’s fine, but for additional fees related to constable work.
President Judge Reinaker said one Lancaster city district court office has hundreds of people with parking ticket debts over $3,000.
Chances those tabs will get paid, Reinaker said, “are pretty much nil.”
Lancaster County is not doing away with its constables. Many of them are hard-working individuals and vital assets to the communities they serve. Sheriff Reese and his deputies will work in unison with constables with the joint goal being to serve as many warrants as possible with the manpower available.
However, the new system will involve oversight by the Sheriff to assure the warrants are served in a fiscally-sound and efficient manner.
“There are many (constables) that do a good job,” Commissioner Martin said. But, “fee-based law-enforcement is not the best way to go.”
Planning has been ongoing for many months and the transition is underway. The new system is to be in full effect by June 1, 2016.
Costs are subject to change, but the initial annual budget estimate for implementation is $300,000.
The cost-cutting comes with a strategic goal not to serve less warrants for less money, but to serve more warrants – specifically more high-level warrants (felonies, etc.) – and make Lancaster County a safer place.
“We have databases the constables don’t have,” Sheriff Reese said.
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