Reporting Mireya Villarreal
DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) - Let’s be honest. No one likes to get pulled over by the police and no one likes to pay their tickets. But they do it because they’re afraid of going to jail.
Our CBS 11 I-Team uncovered startling numbers from the city of Dallas that show they have more than 490,000 outstanding warrants that haven’t been served, worth more than $165 million.
In 2012, Dallas closed out 2,043 cases and brought in $2,187 dollars with their warrant round-up. But the city manager’s office said it cost them $71,000 to make that project happen. That’s why, off-camera, Dallas city leaders explained to CBS 11 Investigative Reporter Mireya Villarreal that it just wasn’t money-smart for the city to make warrant serving a priority.
During a ride-along with Dallas City Marshals, CBS 11’s I-Team captured video of Steven Neckar being arrested. He has 18 citations under his name, worth about $8,000. Most of those citations are for traffic violations.
“This guys has 12 warrants,” Deputy Brian Gauntlett said. “He’s been hiding for a long time. I’m assuming he’s been hiding for like five or six years.”
On that same day deputies also found Emma Jones. With ten active warrants under her name, she’ll have to find a way to pay $3,400 or face sitting in jail.
With only 13 marshals in the field, the department is lucky to clear out about 13,000 warrants a year. That means, with the current backlog of more than 492,000 warrants, if no new warrants were issued, it’d take them more than 38 years to clear the docket.
“I do not like getting pulled over. I don’t like having tickets or anything on my name,” Shummon Philips told us.
Shummon Philips’ fear of having a bad driving record is what pushed her to clear up a speeding ticket on her day off. But she’s frustrated not everyone is being held responsible.
“They’re driving around out there. Not only with the warrants, you know, most of them probably don’t have insurance or they don’t have a driver’s license, you know. And that’s scary. It’s just scary to know,” she noted.
CBS 11’s Mireya Villarreal took Philips’ concerns to Dallas City Council Member Angela Hunt. Hunt says the backlog of warrants is a byproduct of a slow-moving municipal court system. She says, for the longest time municipal judges weren’t really punishing people who came in with tickets and that kind of attitude is what encouraged people to ignore their tickets.
“We had so many defendants that would, basically, laugh when they’d receive tickets from the city of Dallas because our judges really weren’t enforcing the law,” Councilwoman Hunt explained.
Hunt was one of several Dallas council members that pushed to bring in new municipal court judges last year. She says it could take a while before the culture of the court system changes. In the meantime, she’s planning to take a closer look at what other cities are doing.
“There are other cities that are doing this successfully,” Hunt added. “So, the question is, what are they doing right? What are we doing wrong? And how do we adapt our practices to our city?”
About 30 miles west of Dallas is a city that seems to have figured it out. In the last few years, Fort Worth city leaders made some big changes to their warrant system in an effort to decrease outstanding cases.
Fort Worth City Spokesperson, Bill Begley, talked to us about those changes, “The city of Fort Worth is serious about trying to make sure these obligations are met.”
In 2012, Fort Worth closed out 139,000 outstanding warrants. They did it with the help of 20 city marshals, a collection agency, easy online payments, and new city office where people can pay in person.
“We want to give people every opportunity to address their obligations,” Begley said. “We’ve come up with a variety of different ways to give people an opportunity to address their warrants and their tickets and get things taken care of quickly.”
But Fort Worth’s efforts haven’t gone without controversy. Last year the city essentially wrote off 670,000 old tickets worth millions of dollars. After years of trying to collect on those warrants, they decided to cut their losses.
Bill Begley admits it’s not easy to get rid of all the city’s outstanding warrants. But with the recent changes, he believes Fort Worth is finally moving in the right direction.
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