Online warrant posting a big hit

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An online listing of area residents wanted by the law remains popular with the public three weeks following its debut.

With responsibility for more than 2,000 active warrants, the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office launched the Web site both as a way to allow people to take care of minor warrants on their own terms and to track down dangerous felons. 

“It’s been very successful,” Flathead County Undersheriff Pete Wingert said. “The volume’s increased certainly. It’s serving its purpose and obviously we’d like to see it continue in that regard.”

In its first week, the Web site generated 200 tips. Sixty people, including 10 felons, showed up at the Sheriff’s Office to turn themselves in, Wingert said.

“Two-hundred tips is more than we get in a month, typically, and to get them in a week was overwhelming. But we’d take the 200 tips again next week,” Wingert said.

The additional workload produced by the Web site, which was launched Nov. 9, has been manageable because wanted people are turning themselves in.

“I’m certain it’s having some impact because to have 50 misdemeanants turn themselves in in addition to 10 felons is pretty big. Felons don’t generally just walk in and turn themselves over. That’s not typical felon behavior,” he added.

On its first day, the page with the warrants list tripled the usual number of visits to the county’s Web site, making it the most popular page on the whole site.

And, for some reason, the most clicked-on section of the warrants page was for people whose last name began with the letter “B,” Wingert said.

Offenders, from those wanted for failing to appear on misdemeanor traffic offenses to those accused of violent felonies, are on the list — which gives the suspects’ age, last known location and known aliases.

Those wanted on felony charges also have their pictures posted, Wingert said.

Underneath information on the alleged crime, the date the warrant was issued, and bond amount is an e-mail link to submit anonymous tips.

And while the number of tips appears to have tapered off since the Web site’s unveiling, Wingert said he believes the list still is being used.

The list — which is updated at least twice a day — is open to use by anyone, including employers, landlords, or even people vetting the suitability of a significant other.

“That’s kind of a side benefit,” Wingert said.

While deputies actively pursue people wanted for serious crimes, authorities don’t have the manpower or room in the jail to search out and arrest those with nonviolent misdemeanor warrants.

Posting the list, and allowing people to turn themselves on their own terms, should allow residents to avoid inconvenient situations — such as going to jail on a minor warrant, say for unpaid fines on traffic offenses, during unrelated contact with police.

At the end of October, the county had 2,249 active warrants, including 684 for felony offenses. Included in that tally are cases originating with the Sheriff’s Office and Montana Highway Patrol, but not misdemeanor or felony crimes worked by the Kalispell, Columbia Falls and Whitefish police departments.

The list of warrants can be found under the Sheriff’s Office section of the Flathead County Web site, http://flathead.mt.gov.

Reporter Nicholas Ledden can be reached at 758-4441 or by e-mail at nledden@dailyinterlake.com

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