East Texas cities serving old warrants, making arrests
BY KENNETH DEAN
In the small building housing the municipal offices for the city of Van, Brenda Clemmons shuffled through the stacks of traffic warrants the city has collected since 2008.
She counted 719 outstanding misdemeanor warrants, some dating back to 2008, for a total owed to the city of $257,055 in fines.
In the past, the town might not collect on a delinquent fine unless the offender gets pulled over and the officer finds the record of the offense.
But come Saturday, Van police, Van Zandt County sheriff's deputies and constables and marshals will join peace officers statewide for the Great Texas Warrant Round-Up, which will run through March, to arrest those wanted on outstanding warrants.
Van's non-collection issue is not unique in Texas.
"Several years ago Houston developed this warrant roundup, and soon other municipalities were joining it, and now there are about 240 agencies sharing information and trying to clear up their warrants," Ms. Clemmons said.
Since 2009, the Van Municipal Court has cleared $74,462 of fines associated with 236 arrests officers during the round-up.
Lindale also is working to clear up old warrants, and officials there say the city is owed $329,388 by 510 people on the wanted list. Lindale will begin its round-up March 2.
In Tyler, the task seems a daunting one as an entire wall is lined with folders containing the 44,982 misdemeanor warrants dating back decades.
Cam McCabe, Tyler Municipal Court administrator, said the warrants are for 18,303 defendants with a total owed to the city of $14.4 million.
The warrants, which include traffic, ordinance, health and safety violations, date to the 1980s, and Ms. McCabe said they often see people show up to pay a fine from decades ago.
"We get them coming in all the time, and just today we had someone pay an $800 fine from a 1999 ticket and $500 on a 2003 ticket," she said.
Ms. McCabe said the court uses any means necessary to collect the money, including holds placed on driver's licenses and placing old debts on credit reports.
"Someone goes to buy a home, and there is this fine on their credit report, so they call us and clear their record," she said.
Ms. McCabe said her court clears about 20,000 warrants each year, or about 85 percent of warrants issued each year.
But what happens when a person dies or is imprisoned for life?
Ms. McCabe said the court is working on a project to clear warrants on deceased or imprisoned individuals because those cases will never be closed.
Arrests made during the sweep are expected to center primarily on Class C misdemeanors, which include offenses such as traffic, parking and city ordinance violations, although war-rants on higher charges also will be served.
In Longview, Sally Rees, court administrator, said her court's warrants only go back to 2009 because a judge dismissed all prior warrants when the city went to a new computer program.
"In 2009, we got a new system, and we closed all cases prior to that because they were the least collectible. For every year that goes by, it becomes more unlikely you'll ever catch them again and many people are transient and move to other locations so collecting the money is unlikely," she said.
Ms. Rees said she has 17,056 warrants on 8,856 defendants, who owe $8.5 million.
"During the roundups, we do have an influx of people coming into pay their fines to keep from being arrested, and then there are people who are arrested and pay fines to get out of jail," she said.
Those who might have warrants are asked to contact the appropriate jurisdiction.
In Tyler, people can go to the Municipal Court at 813 N. Broadway Ave., which is open 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.
For assistance in resolving an outstanding warrant, call the Tyler Municipal Court at 903-531-1266. Or pay online at www.cityoftyler.org
under the "I want to pay" menu at the top of the page.
In Longview, go online at court.longviewtexas.gov/municipal-court to pay fines or call 903-237-1183.
For those with fines outstanding in Lindale, contact Lindale Municipal Court at 903-882-6150 or online at www.lindaletx.gov