Ramsey County sheriff wants you to turn yourself in

  • Article by: CHAO XIONG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 20, 2011 - 8:38 PM

The office is seeking a database for public to check on low-level warrants.

Here's an idea: Look yourself up in an Internet database to see whether police want you arrested. If so, turn yourself in.

It might seem crazy, but if the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office gets its way, that will become the newest offering in its technology-based services. The department seeks about $15,000 from the county's Technology Applications Fund to create an Online Warrant Search.

"Can we trust people to use this?" asked sheriff's spokesman Randy Gustafson. Some low-level offenders who aren't career criminals are more likely to check the database, he said.

Anyone who suspects they might have a warrant pending can simply log in, check their status and report themselves. Still seem like a hard sale? Gustafson said people already call the sheriff's warrants office seeking that very information (about 300 calls each day), and reporting themselves doesn't automatically mean they'll be arrested.

Many warrants are issued for misdemeanor offenses that typically carry no jail time. Warrants seek to collect fines or get offenders to appear in court, Gustafson said.

The database seeks to attract people with arrest warrants for minor offenses, such as unpaid traffic tickets, a parole violation or failing to appear in court -- but not violent offenders. Many of those low-level offenses end up as arrests when offenders are stopped for unrelated reasons, such as a traffic violations.

The hope is that people who know they have minor offenses will pay their fines or contact the court before that happens, saving the county time and money, Gustafson said.

Part of the motivation, however, is to free up sheriff's deputies.

"You just don't have the manpower to go after a misdemeanor warrant with a $50 fine to it," Gustafson said.

Dakota County already employs the service, which only lists public information.

The Ramsey County manager has proposed setting aside $2.8 million for the 2012 Technology Applications Fund, created in 2005. That still needs approval by the county board this year. The fund is open to all county departments. The money is meant to be a one-time expenditure, with projects costing little to nothing to operate in the future.

Previous projects made possible by the fund include self-checkouts at libraries.

"The pool is a great approach because the needs of a department varies year to year," said Johanna Berg, Ramsey County chief information officer. "It gives departments a place to go."

It could prove especially beneficial for the sheriff's office, given that Sheriff Matt Bostrom pledged to freeze his department's budget when he took office earlier this year.

Proposed projects have many hurdles before being recommended to the County Board for approval. Projects that pass muster will be fine-tuned for a formal presentation in January.

Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708 Twitter: @ChaoStrib

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