York judge: Nights, weekends off-limits for some warrant arrests

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch
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People who have outstanding summary warrants in York County for failure to pay their fines will no longer be arrested after normal business hours and on weekends — whether by police, sheriff's deputies or constables.

President York County Common Pleas Judge Joseph C. Adams on Wednesday, Jan. 16, sent an email saying the new procedure is effective immediately.

Few officials were willing to speak on the record about the change, or the positive or negative ramifications it might have for the county — including whether that means less revenue will be collected.

The county, the state and individual municipalities all receive revenue from the collection of fines and court costs of such summary offenses. That includes York City as well as York County's boroughs and townships.

A copy of the judge's email was provided to The York Dispatch. It was sent to all of York County's 19 magisterial district judges (MDJs), their office managers, members of the York County Office of Court Administration and to the York County Sheriff's Office.

The new rules: The judge's email reads: 

"MDJs and Office Managers,

"At the request of MDJ (Barry) Bloss and MDJ (Scott) Laird, the following policies and procedures are effective immediately: 

"1. Any warrant issued for failure to pay on a summary offense shall include the following language in the comments field: 'Only to be served during business hours of District Court 19-X-XX.' (19-X-XX to be replaced with the appropriate issuing court's designation)

"2. All  minor courts shall, no later than 4/15/19, recall all outstanding failure-to-pay warrants for summary offenses that do not contain the comment notation specified above. Courts may reissue these warrants with the comment notation specified above.

"3. MDJ Bloss shall advise county control that no failure-to-pay warrant for a summary offense shall be released for service to any constable or law enforcement official outside of the business hours of the issuing court.

"4. If a constable or law enforcement official attempts to present a defendant to central booking pursuant to a failure-to-pay warrant for a summary offense outside of the business hours of the issuing court, central booking shall not accept custody of the defendant in that case, shall not take any action to process or document service or cancellation of the warrant, and shall not contact the duty support office, the issuing court, nor the duty MDJ regarding that case.

"5. If a constable or law enforcement official presents a defendant to central booking pursuant to a failure-to-pay warrant for a summary offense during the business hours of the issuing court, central booking may accept custody of the defendant for that case.

  • a.  If the defendant pays the full amount required on the warrant plus any service fees, central booking shall notify duty support. Duty support shall accept payment and cancel the warrant in (the MDJs' computer system). Central Booking shall release the defendant for that case.
  • b.  If the defendant does not pay the full amount required on the warrant plus service fees, central booking shall notify the issuing court that the warrant has been served. The duty support office shall play no role. Central booking shall coordinate scheduling the hearing and processing documentation directly with the issuing court. The issuing court shall promptly document the results of the hearing in (the MDJs' computer system). If the issuing court fails to respond to central booking within one hour to schedule a hearing, central booking shall release the defendant from custody for that case.

"6. MDJ Bloss shall communicate these new procedures to constables and law enforcement officials."

York County President Judge Joseph C. Adams

Falling in line: Bloss, who is president of the York County MDJ Association, responded by text, calling it a procedural change.

"We were one of the remaining counties (in the state) that didn't implement a change (earlier)," Bloss wrote. "We now fall in line with the overwhelming majority of the counties within the state."

Messages seeking comment left with Judge Adams' chambers and the York County Office of Court Administration were not returned Thursday.

Questions submitted to the county — including asking for the current number of outstanding York County warrants and whether county officials expect to see a reduced revenue stream because of the policy change — were not answered Thursday afternoon.

District Attorney Dave Sunday and York County Sheriff Richard Keuerleber said it's too soon to know what this change means in the long term.

York County District Attorney Dave Sunday

"We're just processing this," Sunday said. "My office is conducting a thorough analysis with regard to any legal implications for the district attorney's office and also for law enforcement generally." 

The DA said he wasn't part of the decision-making process.

Will abide by rule: The sheriff said his warrant unit and the county's central booking unit, which is run out of the sheriff's office, will simply comply with the judge's email.

"We're going to abide by the same rules as everyone else," he said.

Keuerleber said he can't speculate as to why the policy change was made.

Sue Doering, 80, of York City, is reassured by York County Sheriff Richard Keuerleber while she waits her turn to resolve three parking-ticket warrants during Operation Safe Surrender at Stillmeadow Church of the Nazarene's York City campus on Thursday, Aug. 24, 2017. Operation Safe Surrender gives people with outstanding warrants the opportunity to resolve their issues in a neutral, faith-based setting.
(Dawn J. Sagert photo)

He noted that his office has twice organized large-scale "Safe Surrender" programs to encourage those with outstanding warrants to deal with them. And his warrant unit focuses on finding fugitives.

More:Sheriff: Safe Surrender collects $19K from 525 fugitives so far

More:People with warrants flock to Operation Safe Surrender

York Area Regional Police Chief Tim Damon said he also can't opine about the change because it's simply too new.

"We'll be watching and waiting," he said.

Northeastern Regional Police Chief Bryan Rizzo said he is completely against the change in procedure.

"Those warrants give my officers probable cause to stop these defendants," he said. "We have found DUIs, drugs, etc., from these stops."

Rizzo said limiting the opportunities for officers to stop those people "will just mean less opportunities to catch criminals."

Paid per job: But state Constable John Shannon, who is president of the York County State Constables Association, said he suspects the change in policy will affect the amount of revenue collected by the county and municipalities, and also directly affect working constables.

"Normally, we do a lot of work in the evenings," because that's often when it's most effective to track down those with warrants, he said. "It's going to have a great impact on constables' work. ... It's part of our livelihood. We do all the work for all district courts."

That includes transporting prisoners, serving subpoenas and eviction notices, plus work on civil cases and landlord-tenant cases, according to Shannon.

"But the bulk of our work is warrants, and we are only paid by the job. So when we're looking for people ... we don't make a penny," he said. "Our fees are not paid until we actually perform the service."

Constables' fees are placed on defendants, Shannon said, not taxpayers.

Shannon said that in 2017, York County's constables served more than 19,000 warrants, summary and criminal.

He confirmed the judge's email was forwarded to him by York County officials, who asked him to disseminate it to all of the county's constables.

Chief Rizzo said he agrees with Shannon.

"It will hurt their livelihood," he said. "Small (police) departments like ours rely on these constables."

Rizzo said he hopes to learn more about the change at the next meeting of the York County Chiefs of Police Association meeting.

West York Mayor Shawn Mauck talks about his first 100 day goals including the creation of a junior policing program, Monday, Nov. 14, 2016. John A. Pavoncello

Waste of time? West York Mayor Shawn Mauck said he believes the procedural change will "affect the ability of our police department to serve summary warrants effectively."

He said West York officers regularly serve warrants in the evenings and at night. Mauck called it a waste of officers' time if they can't arrest those with outstanding failure-to-pay warrants.

"That means we don't collect fines," he said, and the borough's revenue stream is affected.

"This is the dumbest thing I've ever seen," Mauck said.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.