Editorial: Keep up with warrants

The Detroit News

Dozens of suspected violent criminals arrested by Detroit Police over the past four years have been left alone to live freely because of a backlog of unsigned warrants at the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office for suspects not in custody.

This oversight is the result of staffing reductions and budget cuts going back several years, according to Prosecutor Kym Worthy.

But there's simply no excuse for leaving likely murderers, rapists and child abusers on Detroit's streets. Public safety is the primary function of government, and it's hard to imagine what spending is more critical than providing the resources necessary to clear up this backlog.

Whatever resources and budgeting assistance are needed must be a priority for Worthy and incoming Wayne County Executive Warren Evans in the new year.

New leadership provides the perfect opportunity for Worthy to negotiate budgets and form a better working relationship than the one she's had with outgoing County Executive Bob Ficano and the county commission.

Worthy says she has a plan to clear the backlog that will cost about $500,000 and involve bringing in contracted prosecutors to help clear the cases. That's a good start, and it's imperative this plan is enacted immediately after the new year.

The public fights between Worthy and Ficano indicate just how poorly Wayne County administers justice for its residents. Regardless, inter-departmental squabbling should never be the reason the public is victimized by criminals who should be behind bars.

There's no doubt the county's finances are a disaster, and that most certainly has affected the ability of all departments to do their jobs.

But everyone is shorthanded, including the Detroit Police. Its budget has been cut as well and it's a daily challenge for them to keep up with the crime on Detroit's streets.

But they're still making arrests. It's then the job of the prosecutor's office to correctly and efficiently execute the warrants to make sure suspected criminals aren't left alone to commit more crimes.

The backlong involves warrants for suspects that haven't ended up immediately in custody. The cases span two years and Worthy says it began when budget cuts took place.

But since most violent criminals are not one-time offenders, it's absolutely critical this backlog gets cleared. With hundreds of these warrants outstanding, there's a good chance of more repeat offenses.

The standard for issuing a warrant is just probable cause, not airtight evidence. Police must be able to move on to new crimes and trust their evidence for warrants will be treated in a time-sensitive and effective manner.

Wayne County residents deserve better service for their tax dollars. Their leaders must make bringing criminals to justice a much higher priority.