JAMESTOWN – The city of Jamestown saw 72% increase during January in the number of bench warrants issued by Jamestown City Court for individuals who’ve failed to appear to answer to criminal charges brought against them.
According to Jamestown Public Safety Director/Police Chief Harry Snellings, the city court issued 119 total bench warrants in January 2020, an increase of 50 over the same time period in 2019.
The number was provided to WRFA following Monday night’s Jamestown City Council Work Session, in which the initial figure of 107 bench warrants was provided. However, according to Snellings during a follow up on Tuesday, that number didn’t include the total for the entire month.
The bench warrants are issued for people who’ve been arrested for a crime or crimes and then failed to appear in court to answer to their charges. The increase in bench warrants is being attributed to recent Bail Reform measures out of Albany, which eliminated cash bail for most misdemeanor and nonviolent felony offenses. As a result, fewer individuals are being held in custody until their day in court.
“This is one of the issues that is being addressed, where people are not having to post bail and are instead given an appearance ticket, and a lot of them are not appearing back in court, so this is a huge increase in the number of bench warrants that we are going to have to be serving,” explained Jamestown City Councilman and Public Safety Committee Chairman Brent Sheldon (R-Ward 1) during Monday night’s Jamestown City Council meeting.
“We’re seeing the same problems with this all throughout the state. It’s ‘catch and release.’ They get arrested, they get an appearance ticket and then they don’t come to court,” Sheldon added.
Chief Snellings also told council members Monday night that the additional bench warrants have added to the JPD’s workload because officers now have to locate those individuals and serve them their bench warrant. In addition, officers also have to ask them how they would like to be contacted by the court if they don’t appear.
Snellings also noted that the department recently promoted a patrol officer to the position of Detective in order to help process evidence that is collected during an arrest. Under new state guidelines, law enforcement must now collect and turnover all evidence within 15 days of an arrest, given them a much smaller window to investigate a case before handing it over to the District Attorney for prosecution.
Snellings will be attending a hearing on Thursday in Buffalo for the Repeal Bail Reform Task Force, which was created by State Senate Republicans and is chaired by local Sen. George Borrello (R-Irving, 57th Senate District).
WRFA reached out to Snellings on Tuesday for additional information regarding the bench warrants issued for January 2020. According to chief Snellings, of the 119 bench warrants issued in January, 17 were for violations, 95 were for misdemeanors and seven involved people who were arrested on a felony charge.
The list of original criminal charges for warrants in January 2020 included:
- Aggravated Harassment 2nd Degree
- Assault 2nd Degree
- Assault 3rd Degree
- Aggravated Family Offense
- Criminal Contempt 1st Degree
- Criminal Impersonation
- Criminal Mischief 4th Degree
- Criminal Possession of Marijuana 2nd Degree (Felony)
- Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance 7th Degree
- Criminal Possession of Stolen Property
- Criminal Tampering
- Criminal Trespass
- Criminal Possession of a Weapon
- Driving While Intoxicated
- Driving While Ability Impaired Drugs
- Endangering the Welfare of a Child
- False Personation
- Grand Larceny
- Menacing 2nd Degree
- Obstructing Governmental Administration
- Petit Larceny
- Resisting Arrest
- Stalking 4th Degree
- Unauthorized use of a Motor Vehicle
- Unlawful Imprisonment