Traffic stops can turn into arrests for old warrants with new system

System lets police patrols access record data statewide

rgallagher@newsobserver.com June 3, 2012 

— A Raleigh police officer turned on his blue lights for what was expected to be a routine traffic stop over the weekend, but it became an arrest after the officer tapped into a new a statewide criminal-information computer network.

The network showed that the driver had six outstanding warrants charging she had failed to report income she got when she was on unemployment in 1998.

Officer S.C. Cunningham entered Angela T. Paige, 41, into a car-mounted laptop computer like the ones that are now in almost all patrol cars. The system to which it can connect, known as NCAWARE, told Cunningham that Paige, of Durham, was listed on six warrants that the state Employment Security Commission had issued from its Durham office in September 1999.

The charges, all misdemeanors under state law, said that Paige collected $1,470.50 in wages in March and April 1998 without telling the unemployment system about it while she was collecting benefits.

Cunningham took Paige before Wake County magistrates Saturday; her bond was set at $5,000, more than four times the amount the state says she failed to report.

NCAWARE has resulted in an increasing number of arrests on warrants from two or three or more years ago and from anywhere in the state, said Raleigh police Capt. R.A. Murr. People who may have slipped through the cracks in the previous records system are now being found more often.

A time-saver for officers

Before NCAWARE – an acronym taken from North Carolina Warrant Repository – magistrates had to search the court computer system county by county and sometimes had to call other counties to ask about someone they thought might be wanted there.

Phone calls and faxes are not unheard of now, but the need seldom arises. Now, police officers arrive at the magistrates’ offices already knowing the criminal history number of the person they are charging if there is an outstanding warrant, and magistrates verify it within seconds and issue the needed paperwork.

It is not unusual in the warrant files in a county magistrates’ office to find numerous warrants charging failure to appear in court in the same file as a current charge. People who scoff at coming to court to face charges on which they have been released now stand a higher chance of being caught if they encounter the criminal justice system again.

Magistrates, the court officials in each county before whom arrestees are brought, use NCAWARE to verify and print hard copies of warrants for police to serve on defendants.

The state Administrative Office of the Courts began to build NCAWARE in 2000. It was 2011, however, before the entire state was linked.

The goal had been to have all counties connected by the end of 2010. Johnston County was the first to test the system, in 2008.

Gallagher: 919-829-4520

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