Governor wants to speed up warrants and protective orders in new Ohio system

Gov. Mike DeWine on July 6 announced the rollout of eWarrants, an electronic system for uploading criminal warrants and protective orders to state and  national databases. Behind him, left to right, are Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, Meigs County Court of Common Pleas Judge Linda Warner, Meigs County Clerk of Courts Sammi Mugrage and Meigs County Sheriff Keith Wood.

Credit: Jim Gaines

Combined ShapeCaption
Gov. Mike DeWine on July 6 announced the rollout of eWarrants, an electronic system for uploading criminal warrants and protective orders to state and national databases. Behind him, left to right, are Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, Meigs County Court of Common Pleas Judge Linda Warner, Meigs County Clerk of Courts Sammi Mugrage and Meigs County Sheriff Keith Wood.

Credit: Jim Gaines

Ohio is rolling out a new system for quickly entering warrants and protective orders into state and national databases by courts and law enforcement. It’s free to counties, but not mandatory, so Gov. Mike DeWine and other state officials are asking local governments to sign on voluntarily.

DeWine, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted and officials from Meigs County announced the availability of the eWarrants system at a Wednesday news conference in Columbus. Meigs, a rural county of about 22,000 on Ohio’s southeastern edge, was the first to adopt eWarrants.

Before this, court staff and law enforcement hand-carried paper copies of warrants to various offices, and those warrants were manually typed into databases: Ohio’s Law Enforcement Automated Data System, or LEADS, and the National Crime Information Center, or NCIC, said Judge Linda Warner from the Meigs County Court of Common Pleas. But that was a slow process, and paper could be misplaced, she said.

The county was interested in a system similar to eWarrants but couldn’t afford it, so it eagerly volunteered when state officials said this was available, Warner said.

“It’s been fantastic,” she said.

The eWarrants system cut processing time for warrants and protective orders from days or weeks to just hours, said Sammi Mugrage, Meigs County clerk of courts.

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“I encourage other clerks to just jump in,” she said.

DeWine said eWarrants has increased Meigs County’s processing speed fivefold. Now Champaign County is using it too, he said.

“We hope to see this spread,” DeWine said.

In 2019, DeWine said, he created a task force to study how warrants were served. There was a backlog of unserved warrants, but the task force also found “tens of thousands of other warrants and protective orders” that had never been entered in state or federal databases. Many agencies were still processing everything on paper, so they couldn’t even keep up with newly issued warrants, he said.

“The fact is that Ohio law does not currently require warrants and protective orders to be entered in the federal background system,” DeWine said.

He said the situation has improved. In March 2019, only 18,000 Ohio warrants were in the NCIC database. Now there are 220,000.

DeWine said there is proposed legislation to require at least warrants for “Tier 1 crimes” — the most serious — to be entered in state and federal databases, but the General Assembly hasn’t taken it up.

Husted, director of InnovateOhio, said that organization collaborated with other state departments on the eWarrants program. The contractor on the $4.7 million project is LexisNexis. That cost includes training for local personnel and integrating eWarrants with existing systems, Husted said.

“It is free and easy for our friends in local governments to use. It is state-funded and locally-operated,” he said.

Warner said the staff training in Meigs County was easy and offered at flexible times. It took no more than 30 minutes to learn, she said.

But there are 19 vendors supplying warrant-entry services to Ohio’s 88 counties, so integrating eWarrants with those varying systems will be difficult, DeWine said.

“That is really slowing us up,” he said.

Meigs County Sheriff Keith Wood said the increased speed will make for better background checks, safer traffic stops and more secure gun sales. He urged agencies across the state to sign on.

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“The other counties, the other 87 – wake up, get involved. We need you,” Wood said.

Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser hailed the new system and praised DeWine for promoting it.

“Time is usually of the essence” when doing background checks, Gmoser said. “When things get behind, some people get hurt.”

Paper-based manual entry to law enforcement databases is not only too slow in alerting police of new warrants or protective orders, but can leave rescinded orders or withdrawn warrants in the system, he said.

“We usually don’t hear about it until it’s too late,” Gmoser said. “We hear about it when somebody’s under arrest somewhere.”

People may lose their jobs or miss important appointments while sitting in jail on warrants that are no longer valid, he said. The eWarrants system makes that far less likely, Gmoser said.

“I don’t see a downside to it,” he said.

Asked if he would push legislators to require background checks on all gun sales, DeWine demurred.

“I think you’d better talk to the legislature about that,” he said.

But moments later DeWine did call on legislators to pass the long-stalled package of police reforms, in the context of the Jayland Walker case. Akron police killed Walker June 27 as the unarmed 25-year-old Black man fled them on foot. Police allege they’d been shot at from Walker’s vehicle, and that a gun was found inside it. Walker was unarmed when police fired about 90 shots, hitting him about 60 times.

DeWine said the police reform bill he has supported includes greater accountability for officers, treating law enforcement like other licensed professions, and creating an oversight body with a database of all officers and their records.

“This police reform was worked on by community leaders across the state, it w as worked on by the FOP,” he said, calling it “long past due.”

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