Photo of a customer at a gun shop by Sergio Flores/Bloomberg, Getty Images.
The following article was originally published on News5Cleveland.com and is published in the Ohio Capital Journal under a content-sharing agreement. Unlike other OCJ articles, it is not available for free republication by other news outlets as it is owned by WEWS in Cleveland.
A new state database, which was announced during a press conference Wednesday morning, is expected to simplify background checks and accelerate the process to file protection orders and warrants.
This isn’t the first time warrant policy has changed in the past few years.
A 5 On Your Side Investigative documentary has led to changes in Cleveland Police policy. Back in 2019, News 5 aired the half-hour special “The System: A Call for Help.” Within days, Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams announced an internal investigation about the domestic violence case that the team followed for a year.
The investigators tracked down a serial domestic abuse suspect, but when they called the police, officers didn’t show up for three and a half hours. When they did, there was no search warrant in hand and they walked away.
Now, the new policy changes hope to help catch violent offenders sooner and close gaps in service.
In another investigation, News 5 found an issue with the uploading of warrants.
A man who was arrested for possession of a stolen vehicle in 2018 was released on bond, when, police say, he promptly carjacked a woman with a boxcutter.
The man had numerous other warrants in other counties, but law enforcement said they didn’t know because it wasn’t entered into their database.
There hasn’t been a central database for warrants here in Ohio until Wednesday.
“Ohio law does not require warrants and protection orders to be entered into the state and federal background system,” DeWine said at his press conference.
DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said a new warrant system would prevent the double-carjacking from happening again.
“This is critical information that a law enforcement official might need to apprehend a criminal,” Husted added. “It’s critical information that a gun store owner might need to make sure that they don’t sell a gun to somebody who lacks the legal ability to own one.”
The system is meant to safeguard against someone from out of state who has an outstanding warrant and a felony who then comes to Ohio to purchase a gun.
“That person who’s selling them a gun has absolutely no idea that they are not allowed to own a gun or not allowed to have a gun sold to them,” DeWine said.
This could also apply to the individuals whose warrants haven’t been uploaded to the current system yet, like the case of the man with the boxcutter.
The eWarrants system is free for courts and law enforcement and streamlines the process of uploading warrants and protection orders, plus it allows any other agencies to get access to data almost instantly from around the state.
“The warrant was served, returned and docketed within a matter of hours,” Meigs County Clerk Sammi Mugrage said. “This is something that would normally take days or even weeks.”
The program is being piloted in a Meigs County, which used to just use paper, not an online system. The system has saved time resulting in a safer community, Mugrage added.
“It takes off a great burden for our law enforcement in carrying papers back and forth,” Meigs County Common Pleas Court Judge Linda R. Warner said. “Because of the nature of law enforcement, when there’s a physical piece of paper, it was often misplaced.”
The warrant or protection order could be “in the back of a cruiser” or someone “left for vacation” and the rest of the team doesn’t know where the document is.
“This takes away all those kind of real human things that were holding us back, frankly,” the judge added.
DeWine brought up the one problem with the database, though.
“A little bit more action that needs to be taken by the legislature,” he said. “That’s the part I can’t do.”
I asked @GovMikeDeWine his response to law enforcement saying Ohio is focusing on the wrong issues, especially in regards to loosening gun laws.
— Morgan Trau (@MorganTrau) July 6, 2022
DeWine and the Department of Public Safety are looking into adding a provision to a criminal law package that would require agencies to to upload warrants.
The addition would be a requirement that law enforcement enter warrants for Tier One offenses, which are felonies, and some misdemeanors, into both Ohio’s Law Enforcement Data System and the National Crime Information Center.
The bill it would fit into, Senate Bill 288, is currently stuck in a committee.
“Since taking office in 2019, the number of Ohio warrants entered in NCIC by Ohio law enforcement agencies has increased over 1,000% from 18,117 in March 2019 to 220,206 in June 2022,” the governor’s team said.
In 2020, it was estimated there were a half million warrants in the state of Ohio that have never been entered into a state or federal database, according to Public Safety.
“We developed the new eWarrants system to help our criminal justice agencies overcome the information-sharing barriers that have left dangerous holes in our background check systems,” DeWine added.
There are a few counties in Northeast Ohio that are already committed to doing this, like Lorain, Medina and Stark. Cuyahoga is in communication with the state to join.
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