New officer: Pay up or go to jail
Most people who encounter Randy Robinson when he's on the job are not too excited to see him, and he'll be the first to admit it.
"Generally, they're not real thrilled," said Robinson, who started work Tuesday as the new warrant officer for the Havre Police Department.
Robinson has been assigned to purge a backlog at Havre City Court by tracking down people with outstanding warrants. That entails calling them on the phone or visiting them in person at their home or workplace.
The new officer is no stranger to law enforcement, having worked as a police officer in Havre for 9 years. He left the department to farm, but has now returned to work as a warrant officer, the first in Havre's history.
Robinson gives the people he tracks down two options, neither of which seem very desirable.
"Either I collect the bond from them or they go to jail," he said.
There are 766 outstanding warrants in Havre City Court, Robinson said, adding that some of those are multiple warrants for a single person.
"Some people have as many as five warrants," he said. "I printed a list this morning and I have 38 pages of names. They go back to about '95."
City Judge Joyce Perszyk estimated the amount of outstanding fines exceeds $250,000.
The warrants are all for misdemeanor crimes, like disorderly conduct, partner or family member assault, and driving offenses. When people fail to show up in court or to pay court-ordered fines, a warrant is issued for their arrest. Many times, police do not have the resources to track down those people, so the warrants go unserved until police have another run-in with that person.
The purpose of the new warrant officer is to encourage people to pay their fines and get things squared away with the court before the warrant officer pays them a visit. Robinson, who will work 32 hours a week, will have no other duties other than serving warrants.
"The officer will have no other police duties and will not be available to respond to other calls," Havre Police Chief Kevin Olson said during a November meeting, adding that the number of wanted suspects and unpaid fines is the highest in the city's history.
Robinson's position is temporary, lasting three months. His services are being paid for with a Local Law Enforcement Block Grant administered through the U.S. Department of Justice. The grant also funded new handguns and computers for the Police Department.
Robinson said his main priority while serving as warrant officer is to reduce the backlog in City Court as much as possible.
"My hope is to be able to clear up as many as I can in the three-month period," he said. "I would say if I can get it down to a third of where we are now, I'd be real happy."
Although physically serving warrants is unavoidable, Robinson said he hopes public awareness will encourage some to come take care of the warrants before he contacts them.
"Some of these people can come in and get it squared away with the judge before I come knocking on their door," he said.
People's reactions to seeing Robinson is usually the same, he said.
"The reaction is generally that they know that they have one, and it's just a matter or when they get caught," he said. "In order for a warrant to be issued, a notice has to go out, so most received a letter from the judge. There's very few people that actually don't know they have a warrant."
Robinson said he may publish in the Havre Daily News a list of those people with outstanding warrants. Avoiding having their names published may inspire a few people to pay fines and restitution, he said.
Those who have left the area and think they are safe from being run down by Robinson may be mistaken.
"Right now we're working on trying to set some extradition limits, and at the minimum, extradite from surrounding counties, and maybe as far away as Great Falls and Shelby," he said.
Robinson also stressed that he will not keep 8-to-5 hours.
"I'm gonna keep switching my hours around depending on who I'm looking for, and once I get the paperwork under control, I'll be bouncing around quite a bit," he said.
The most important thing about having a new warrant officer is public awareness, Robinson said.
"People need to know that there is somebody that is going to be looking them up," he said. "I'm either going to be calling them by phone or doing it in person, and I prefer to do it in person," he said. "If I'm talking to them in person, they have (to pay the bond), because if I let them go, I may never see them again."