"Warrant Clear Up" Program in Phoenix Gives Misdemeanor Offenders a Chance to Work With City Voluntarily, Rather Than Be Arrested

It's been a while since you blew off that fine or court date following a misdemeanor arrest.

You've become an expert at spotting cop cars in the rear-view mirror as you drive, and you've ditched more than a few by making a quick turn into parking lot before your license plate could be seen.

You have lots of company -- Phoenix police say they are sitting on more than 110,000 active misdemeanor warrants dating back to 1989.

But a crackdown is coming. Starting late afternoon on Friday, December 9, a task force of cops will launch a "round-up" to find and arrest the scofflaws.

Here's the good news: All next week, from Monday at 8 a.m. to Friday afternoon, people with misdemeanor warrants can walk into Phoenix Municipal Court -- without fear of arrest -- and work with officials to resolve the problem.

The New Opportunity Warrant Clear Up program is a collaboration between police, the city court, public defender's office and city prosecutor's office to resolve the glut of warrants.

"It's not amnesty, but it's going to be an opportunity for people to come in and start over," says Sergeant Tommy Thompson, police spokesman.

Depending on the case, officials can negotiate a fine, get a new court date to which they can stick, or simply plead guilty and plan the next step. All without the need for handcuffs or Tasers.

A lot of people simply "forgot" to pay, says Thompson: "Come in, and we'll restructure the payment."

The program won't work for felony warrants.

"If you've been robbing banks, you might want to pass," Thompson quips.

Once the kumbaya ends -- look out.

Police will launch a multi-day crackdown, round-up, or whatever you want to call it. Authorities warn that they'll be on a hunt to bust people with warrants, whether on the road or at someone's home or workplace.

The idea came from a similar, 6-year-old program in Houston.

Gwendolyn Goins, spokeswoman for the Houston Municipal Courts Department, says she discussed her city's efforts a few weeks ago with Phoenix officials, who had seen a news release online for the Houston program.

Houston has nearly three times the number of Phoenix's outstanding misdemeanor warrants and decided to go with a two-week grace period. About 24,000 cases were resolved during the voluntary turn-in time, Goins says, with another 12,000 being resolved in the crackdown that followed.

True, only about 12 percent of the 300,000-or-so cases were resolved.

But "as far as collections go, it was very successful," she says.

The program added about $2 million to the city's treasury.

No doubt, Phoenix is hoping for the same kind of success.

If you need to do this, go to the court building at 300 West Washington Street between December 5 and 9, anytime from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Bring valid identification and a form of payment, if you have one.

The lines are likely to be shortest earlier in the week.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.

Latest Stories