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Prince George's County sees big backlog of warrants, including for felony charges

By Matt Zapotosky
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 9, 2011; 6:17 PM

More than 50,000 warrants and writs remain unserved by Prince George's County sheriff's deputies, and 642 of them are for suspects accused of serious felonies, officials announced Wednesday.

Prince George's Sheriff Melvin C. High said the number of outstanding warrants is a marked improvement from when he took office and puts the agency "quite literally where I hoped to be in the first 90 days in office." He said deputies still had a lot to do but noted that "getting where you want to be just takes time."

"Today, I can report that this agency has begun to lay the foundation for success," High said.

The sheriff's office has 860 open felony warrants, but 218 of those are for people incarcerated in other jurisdictions. The data provided Wednesday by the sheriff's office offer the most comprehensive look at unserved warrants since High took office in December.

According to the data, twenty-nine of the felony warrants are for murder charges, 49 are for rape, 57 are for attempted murder, and 222 are for first-degree assault. Twenty-two of the warrants are for carjacking charges, 12 are for sex offenses involving children, 144 are for robbery and 107 are for burglary.

High called the data worrisome "because we're dealing with violent criminals." But he said it is probably not out of line with the number of unserved felony warrants in other agencies nationwide. He said that the sheriff's office receives new warrants every day and that he wants to ensure those do not add to the total number of unserved warrants.

"We don't want to have any growth," he said.

High has been under pressure from residents and others to clear the warrant backlog, especially after revelations that a teenager accused of killing a man during a domestic dispute in Forestville in January was charged with attempted murder in 2009 but that sheriff's deputies did not serve the arrest warrant from that incident until after the recent slaying. The sheriff's office recorded a similar incident in August, in which a Seat Pleasant man accused of fatally shooting his girlfriend was charged two weeks earlier with threatening her with a handgun, but deputies never tried to arrest him on the warrant.

Many county police officers have privately grumbled that the sheriff does not have enough deputies serving warrants, suggesting that he should reassign his school resource officers and allow county police to handle school security. The sheriff's office has 26 deputies working as school resource officers or supervisors, compared with 17 working on the warrant squad. High defended his assignment of deputies in schools, saying they had special expertise.

High and other sheriff's officials said they had increased staffing on the warrant squad by about six deputies. In doing so, sheriff's officials said, they had reduced unserved warrants from 53,633 at the end of 2010 to 50,385 as of March 2.

More than half of the unserved warrants are for motor vehicle infractions, and about 25,000 are more than three years old, according to the data.

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