Thousands of warrants in Butler County will likely never be served

Several cabinets store warrant files at the Butler County Sheriff’s Office.
Several cabinets store warrant files at the Butler County Sheriff’s Office.

Thousands of active warrants in Butler County will likely never be served by law enforcement.

The county has a backlog of more than 18,000 unserved warrants for felony and misdemeanor crimes. Most are for minor offenses, but some of those warrants are for people wanted for violent crimes, including homicide.

There just isn’t enough manpower to serve the thousands of warrants, which are issued by a judge for the arrest of a person, according to Butler County law enforcement officials.

Law enforcement agencies argue they have more pressing priorities than serving thousands of warrants for minor offenses such as unpaid traffic tickets or missed court dates.

The Butler County Sheriff’s Office does have a division that focuses on warrants for higher level crimes.

“They are out there serving warrants for the more heinous crimes and if we receive a request from the court,” Deputy Chief Anthony Dwyer said. “The reality is we don’t have the manpower to serve simple misdemeanor warrants.”

In Butler County, felony and misdemeanor warrants are entered into local, state and national computer-tracking systems. The hope is that during routine traffic stops or in the course of another investigation, officers can run background checks that will disclose any outstanding warrants. They can then take the suspects into custody.

Middletown Municipal Court has about 7,000 active warrants and summons. Most are minor in involving failure to pay fines or to appear in court, according to Steve Longworth, courtroom administrator.

The police department is responsible for serving warrants in Middletown, while police officer and bailiffs serve warrants from Hamilton Municipal Court. In 2015, there were 2,559 outstanding warrants in Hamilton Municipal and in 2016 to date, 1,601.

Both departments have had a dedicated warrant officer in the past, but a decline in officers with a steady stream of crime has sent that position by the wayside.

Middletown Lt. Leanne Hood said most people are aware of warrants against them and are just “playing the odds and staying away from us, hoping not to get caught.”

Some critics charge this “chance encounter” approach plays fast and loose with public safety, allowing suspects to remain free, potentially to commit new crimes.

Local jurisdictions employ several methods to help reduce the backlog of unserved warrants, including occasional special “sting” projects and publicizing warrant cases.

The old-school wanted poster got an upgrade a few years ago with the Butler County Most Wanted poster produced in-house featuring 15 suspects. The poster is updated quarterly.

The newest edition is now posted in police departments, post offices and various high-traffic areas throughout the county.

Number one and two are faces that have been featured in the past: Antonio “El Diablo” Riano and Melvin Ramon Mejia, both wanted for murder.

Mejia is wanted by West Chester Police for alleged stabbing and killing his his wife, Jackeline Romero, on Sept. 23, 2006.

Riano is wanted by Hamilton Police for allegedly shooting a man in the head during during a bar brawl that turned deadly outside the Round House bar on Dec. 19, 2004.

Deputy Kevin Mofield said the posters do get a lot of attention and have led to successful apprehensions. He said they try to feature suspects from a cross section of the county to garner interest and also based on intelligence that the person might be back in the area.

“We also post the warrant of the week. Social media has been really successful in spreading the word and finding people,” Mofield said.

Twice a year, Middletown officers do a warrant sweep, taking municipal court outstanding warrants and serving them in teams of officers. Hood said they try to serve at least 50 to 60 warrants and have a “pretty good” success rate.