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Warrants Emphasis Patrol Description
Pierce County, WA


Description of P.L.E.A.D.D. Multi-Agency

Traffic Safety Emphasis Patrols

Pierce County, Washington

Part of

“A Study Of Outstanding DWI Warrants”

Connie H. Wiliszowski

Carlos E. Rodriguez-Iglesias

March, 2000

Prepared for:

U.S. Department of Transportation

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Washington, D.C. 20590

Contract Number DTNH22-98-R-05110

Mid-America Research Institute, Inc. of New England

Winchester, Massachusetts









This report is part of a project, “A Study Of Outstanding DWI Warrants” (NHTSA contract number DTNH22-98-R-05110). One objective of the study was to document practical strategies which can be used to minimize outstanding DWI warrants, thus providing another tool that communities can use to deter DWI offenders. During our search for innovative and promising strategies that jurisdictions were using to eliminate or minimize the outstanding DWI warrant problem in their communities, our attention was drawn to the “Warrants Emphasis” which was conducted in 1999 by the Tacoma/Pierce County DUI Task Force in Pierce County, Washington. This effort highlighted an exceptional working relationship between a multitude of law enforcement agencies, the courts and the jail. Thus, we thought it appropriate to highlight this warrant patrol project. This report describes the background and composition of the Task Force and highlights the warrants emphasis patrol which was conducted in Pierce County. This strategy for serving warrants is one which could be utilized by other communities which have large numbers of outstanding warrants.



Pierce County, Washington covers 1,790 square miles and is located in a western section of the State just south of Seattle and King County. From Mt. Rainier National Park in the east, the County curves north to touch Puget Sound on its western border. Tacoma, located on Puget Sound is the largest city in Pierce County and the third largest city in the State. According to the United States Census Bureau, the 1997 population estimate in Pierce County totaled almost 665,000 individuals with most residing in or near Tacoma.

In 1983, the Tacoma/Pierce County Task Force on Alcohol/Driving was formed due to growing concerns over impaired drivers on the roadways. The Mayor of Tacoma and the Pierce County Executive appointed citizens from the community to the Task Force. The mission of the Task Force was to design and implement an education, public information, and enforcement program. Since that time, the program's scope and community involvement have continued to expand. The DUI task force program is housed within the Pierce County Human Services, under the Chemical Dependency program. Task Force staff receive support and supervision from the Pierce County Human Services, Chemical Dependency Program, the Office of the Mayor of Tacoma, and the Task Force chairperson. [1] There is a Task Force Coordinator who organizes the Task Force members and oversees the program components.

Members of the Task Force include the majority of the law enforcement agencies operating within the County, the Tacoma Mayor's office, various public works and public safety departments, the Prosecutor's office, an ignition interlock dealer, the District and Superior Courts, District Court Probation, the Office of Personnel and Community Affairs from an Army Base located in the County, the State Liquor Control Board, representatives from the alcohol industry, a towing company, an insurance company, and the school district. Task Force members meet monthly to discuss relevant issues.

The Mission Statement of the Tacoma/Pierce County DUI Task Force is, “To reduce deaths and injuries due to impaired driving in Pierce County.

Currently, programs coordinated by the DUI Task Force include: the annual Tacoma/Pierce County DUI/Traffic Safety Awards Ceremony; the multi-agency Emphasis Patrols; Pierce County Responsible Hospitality Alliance (along the SR 7/Pacific Avenue Corridor) [2]; Puyallup Fair display; annual Holiday Campaign and Emphasis Patrol in December; and various presentations to the community, and booths at community events.

The Pierce County multi-agency DUI “Emphasis Patrols” began in January of 1998. “The vision is to create a safer community for the Citizens of Pierce County. We will do this by providing a clear police presence and increasing the public's perception that if you drink and drive, or drug and drive, you will get caught. We also want people to be aware of the `other side' of impaired driving - the victims. We do this by dedicating each emphasis patrol to a victim of a DUI crash.” [3]

These multi-agency emphasis patrols are staffed by P.L.E.A.D.D. (Pierce Law Enforcement Against Drunk Driving), a cooperation between law enforcement agencies (LEAs) operating in Pierce County to deter impaired drivers. The participating LEAs contribute the officers and equipment necessary to conduct the DUI/Safety Emphasis Patrols and contributed the same for the Warrant Emphasis. These emphasis patrols have received support from the public and in the media.

During the 1980s, a Washington state trooper was assigned to track down individuals with outstanding traffic warrants (particularly for DUI offenses), but that position was reassigned back to road patrol by legislators appropriating the budget of the Washington state patrol. Early in 1999, a District Court Judge noted that there were approximately 5,000 outstanding warrants for DUI offenses in Pierce County. Instead of patrolling for DUI offenders during one emphasis patrol, he suggested conducting a round-up of individuals with outstanding DUI warrants who were perceived to be a high risk to public safety and/or had extremely high warrant amounts. We discuss this “warrants emphasis” under the PROGRAM COMPONENTS section of this report.

The Tacoma/Pierce County Task Force is a well-coordinated, comprehensive organization which has been evolving to meet the needs of the community. P.L.E.A.D.D. highlights multi-jurisdictional cooperation at the highest levels which should be noted and commended because of the public safety benefits this cooperation brings to the citizens of Pierce County. Components of the programs initiated by the Task Force include enforcement, the warrants emphasis, rehabilitation, public information/education and program administration. Each of these components is discussed below in more detail




DUI/Traffic Safety Emphasis Patrols. There are 22 law enforcement agencies operating within Pierce County which include the Sheriff and the various cities, state, tribal, and military police agencies. Each department enforces anti-DUI laws within their own jurisdictions. In addition, twenty of these LEAs, jointly referred to as P.L.E.A.D.D., participated in 1999 in the regular DUI/Traffic Safety Emphasis Patrols. P.L.E.A.D.D. staffed the patrols (usually one officer from the smallest departments and as many as five from the host agency and/or the larger departments) which were conducted almost monthly, and more often throughout the holiday season in December.

During the eleven “DUI/Safety Emphasis Patrols” held during 1999, there were 367 DUI arrests, 40 drug related arrests and 31 warrant arrests (for various offenses). Different geographic areas within the County were targeted and different jurisdictions “hosted” each DUI/Traffic Safety Emphasis Patrol. Most of the citations were written into the hosting agency's jurisdiction. (All LEAs, with the exception of the Washington State Police, may elect to write citations into the hosting agency instead of into their own jurisdiction. This means the courts which cover the hosting LEA's jurisdiction would receive fines and fees and would handle any resulting cases.)

As mentioned earlier in this report, the emphasis patrols were dedicated to victims of impaired driving crashes. Friends and family members of the victims met with officers staffing the emphasis squads immediately prior to the start of each patrol. They expressed their thanks to the officers and shared what had happened to their loved ones. Both the victims and the officers were deeply affected by these encounters and the meeting reinforced their joint determination to stop impaired drivers. While this meeting motivated officers, it also provided an opportunity to acknowledge their efforts and dedication. Pierce County emphasis patrol participants are proud that other DUI task forces within Washington and in other states also have begun to dedicate their efforts to victims of impaired driving actions.

The media were alerted via press releases which were distributed before the event so that the public could be notified. The organizers noted that the forewarning did not appear to have an effect on the number of impaired drivers apprehended. A press release was also routinely issued after each event to report the results of the effort.

The total numbers of drivers arrested during emphasis patrols in 1998 and 1999 are noted by offense in the following table.


By Offense, By Year

YEAR* DUI Arrests Alcohol-Related Arrests Drug-Related Arrest Warrant Arrest

(all offenses)

Criminal NOIs**
1998 168 49 25 15 123 407
1999 160 19 40 31 136 537

* During the 1998 DUI Emphasis Patrols, contact was made with 2,331 drivers; and during the 1999 patrols, contact was made with 2,399 drivers.

*NOI-Notice of Infraction (e.g., no turn signal, speeding)

During a typical DUI/Traffic Safety Emphasis Patrol, anywhere from 10-20 drivers, who were believed by officers to be impaired, were arrested. The following chart indicates drivers arrested for DUI during 1998 and 1999 by each separate emphasis patrol conducted during those years.

FIGURE WA-1 -- line graph "DUI arrests by Emphasis Patrol, 1998 - 1999"

Funding for the DUI/Traffic Safety Emphasis Patrols in 1998-1999 was obtained from:

a. Each participating LEA which provided personnel and resources.

b. State grant monies from federal funding which partially paid overtime salaries of participating officers ($33,000).

c. State grant monies from federal funding which were used to purchase related equipment ($20,000).

Warrant Emphasis. The “warrant emphasis” was the event which initially drew our attention to Pierce County, Washington. In 1999, the first warrant emphasis was conducted by P.L.E.A.D.D. in response to the concerns of a District Court Judge who noted that there were approximately 5,000 outstanding DUI warrants [4] in Pierce County. As explained in the Background Section, instead of patrolling for DUI offenders during one “emphasis patrol,” he suggested conducting a round-up of individuals with outstanding DUI warrants who were perceived to be a high risk to public safety and/or had extremely high warrant amounts.

The Task Force organization committee meeting held to discuss the warrant emphasis included representatives from the Pierce County jail, probation department, LEAs, the District Court Administrator, the District Court Judge requesting the “warrant emphasis,” the Criminal Court Manager, the Task Force Chair and the Task Force Coordinator. The decision was made to split up the planning process into two segments: the law enforcement emphasis and the judicial response. The District Court Administrator coordinated the hearing dates and notified the committee of the amount of money each warrant was worth. The Task Force Chair and the Coordinator planned the law enforcement effort by mapping out the strategy for serving the warrants.

The committee determined how to identify which individuals to target. This determination usually was made based on the amount of bail owed on the outstanding warrants; those individuals with the highest dollar amounts assigned to the warrants were targeted. This targeted group was comprised of many multiple DUI offenders (three or more offenses) and/or many offenders with multiple outstanding warrants. The committee members encouraged municipalities to send them names of DUI absconders and defaulters within their communities with high bail amounts and/or who were considered a danger to public safety. The determination was made to concentrate on defaulters with bail amounts over $5,000 which brought the number of warrants down from 5,000 to approximately 200 (just from the District Court). Adding in the names supplied by municipalities, the committee ended up with 225-250 names.

A state trooper cadet created files on each of these warrants including (if available): a photograph of the individual, a risk assessment (to determine possible threats to officer safety), booking sheet, the person's address history, work history, all vehicles licensed to each offender, weapons permits and registrations, criminal history and if there were any other warrants outstanding. These files were placed together in a packet which also included a letter from the District Court Administrator; if the person could not be located, the letter which contained the person's case number and court to contact was to be left behind. The packets were then sorted by geographic location within the County.

Roughly 55-60 law enforcement officers from at least nine different agencies joined forces to staff the warrant emphasis patrol resulting in 11 teams of officers, with at least four officers per team. Officer safety was the primary concern due to the possibility that some defaulters might be dangerous, and also because officers from different LEAs would be accustomed to different operating procedures. To help ensure officer safety, a detailed briefing was conducted the week before the emphasis with all participating officers. Officers were separated into teams by LEA and were instructed to follow their department's directives on serving warrants. The one multi-jurisdictional team received instructions on how to proceed, so that officers from one LEA would not endanger fellow team members from other LEAs due to differences in procedures. The contents of the packets were explained to all teams. Back-up officers were on call to respond if assistance was required should the warrant squads encounter unrelated illegal activity (e.g., an operating drug lab). This would insure that the warrant squads would not become entangled in other matters. Each team was encouraged to hold a team meeting the morning of the warrant emphasis. Each team had a leader who held the rank of sergeant or higher. Each team leader received the names, cell phone and pager numbers of all other team leaders. Each team was instructed to check that the warrants they were serving were still active through his or her own agency dispatch. Also each team leader was instructed to report the team's whereabouts and activity on LERN for officer safety. LERN is the law enforcement radio network which is available to all LEAs.

The teams worked from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on a Wednesday because it had been predetermined that the most jail space would be available on that day. In fact, steps were taken by jail personnel during the planning phase to ensure space would be available to accept individuals picked up by the warrant squads. The officers were also given assurances by jail personnel that none of these people arrested during the emphasis patrol would be released before arraignment. Also prior to the warrant emphasis, arrangements were made so that staff from the jail were available to receive those arrested, which allowed the emphasis patrol officers to return to duty more quickly.

Pierce County District Court 1 arranged to have a special court session the next day. Thursday afternoon at 1:00 p.m., all of those arrested the previous day were arraigned, most on cash bail only, at the same time before the Judge. Typically in Pierce County, arraignments are handled by video feed, so those being arraigned do not physically enter the court room. However, as part of the warrant emphasis, all those who had been arrested by the warrant squads were led together into the Court. They were arraigned in person in view of the press, which provided full news coverage.

The media played an important role during the entire process. Their participation was coordinated by the public information officer for Pierce County. Unlike the DUI/Safety Emphasis Patrols, no advance publicity of the warrants round-up was released due to concerns for officer safety. The day of the warrants emphasis, reporters and television cameras rode along with warrant officers but did not air coverage until 5 p.m. (The news reporting delay was meant to protect law enforcement from offender violence which could occur if dangerous individuals were warned ahead of time about the arrival of police officers.) The news coverage extended all over Pierce County and the Puget Sound area. A press conference was conducted at 4 p.m. by the Sheriff, the Presiding District Court Judge, the Pierce County Executive and the Chair of the Task Force. And as indicated above, the media also covered the arraignment proceedings the following day in District Court. The Tacoma/Pierce County DUI Task Force Coordinator believes all emphasis events are “half and half,” that is, half law enforcement efforts and half media coverage, both of which have a large prevention effect.

The warrant emphasis patrol arrested 18 individuals out of the 131 warrants they attempted to serve and, reportedly, the relatively low numbers disappointed the teams of officers. However, the message sent to defaulters was that law enforcement agencies were actively searching for them. And due to the media coverage, additional people came forward to take care of their outstanding warrants, although no records were kept as to how many persons actually did so.

There are plans to repeat the warrant emphasis with some modifications. Committee members, searching for ways to improve the numbers of defaulters located, have identified additional relevant databases to provide current personal information on those being sought. Also, instead of seeking those individuals with the highest bail amounts set for their warrants (which also happened to be some of the oldest outstanding warrants and/or those with multiple DUI offenses), the squad may search for more recent defaulters and would include first and second-time DUI offenders. Also, letters may be sent by the District Court Judge to each individual informing them of the status of the warrant with instructions on how to contact the court (e.g., special phone number and/or address and hours of the court) by a certain date to make acceptable arrangements to avoid arrest for the outstanding warrant(s). The letters would contain the case number(s) and any amounts owed. If these letters are sent with a return receipt requested, this would provide additional information as to current places of residence.


In December of 1983, the Tacoma/Pierce County DUI Task Force conducted the first victim impact panels at McChord Air Force Base. Three victims related personal tragedies resulting from impaired driving actions. The program was repeated nine times in three days to standing room only crowds. From the strong public reaction, it was determined that this format, then called a Victim's Information Panel could be a useful tool in combating impaired driving. In September 1984, the first court-ordered DUI victim impact panel was organized in neighboring King County. Since that time, these panels have been adopted nationwide.

Early in the spring of 1991, the Tacoma/Pierce County DWI Task Force formed a committee to research the formation of a victims' panel in Pierce County. Support also came from Judges in Pierce County District and Municipal Courts, the District Court Probation and the Pierce County Bar Association. The first court-ordered victim impact panel was held in Pierce County in1991 with 15 defendants attending. Since that time, the numbers have increased to include approximately 125-150 offenders per month.

Offenders listen to how the lives of victims have been impacted and, in some instances, changed forever by the actions of a drunk or impaired driver. In some cases, the victim and the offender are the same person.

Program revenue, generated by the collection of admission fees to the offenders (sessions are free to the public) help to fund the operational costs of the panel, the DUI task force and families of victims of impaired driving crashes.

Public Information/Education

The Task Force Coordinator speaks at public forums about impaired driving and the mission of P.L.E.A.D.D. and the Task Force. The Coordinator is responsible for writing press releases, as well as creating and/or coordinating “newsworthy” events, and writing public service announcements including arranging for their production. The Task Force is represented at safety/health fairs and serves as a “clearinghouse” for traffic safety information regarding Pierce County (e.g., brochures). An informative website is maintained by the Task Force


The Coordinator handles all details of the emphasis patrols including planning the location, coordinating with the hosting LEA, notifying the other P.L.E.A.D.D. member agencies, assembling families of victims for the emphasis dedication and probably most important, keeping the participating LEAs motivated. As mentioned under the Public Information/Education section, the Coordinator also designs pamphlets and writes the before and after press releases about each event. A Captain with the Washington State patrol currently serves as Chair to the Task Force.

The program budget includes the coordinator's salary, equipment and computer purchases, software programs, basic supplies and copies of all program materials (e.g., brochures).

We note that one reason, in part, for the ability of the Task Force members to understand the extent of outstanding DUI related warrants is the availability of data. Detailed records are kept by JIS (Judicial Information Systems), a statewide computerized data collection system available to courts across Washington, which Pierce County District Court staff are able to query for pertinent information. Pierce County District Court staff members also used JIS to provide data for the larger study to “Examine the Nature and Extent of Outstanding DWI Warrants.” During our search for outstanding warrant information across the United States, it has become apparent that there is a lack of informational systems capable of providing data on individuals who either fail to appear at some point during the adjudication process or fail to comply with court ordered sanctions. Or, in other cases, staff members are not able to properly query systems to obtain the appropriate information. This is not the case in Pierce County, Washington where JIS does capture this information and Pierce County District Court staff are using the system's potential to access and utilize the provided data.



The Tacoma/Pierce County Task Force on Alcohol/Driving and P.L.E.A.D.D. organizations are examples of how civic and official cooperation can make a positive difference in the well-being of local citizens. This is a large group of individuals representing all branches of the Pierce County legal and adjudication system dedicated to safeguarding the public from DUI offenders. The group has devised a well-coordinated effort to combat impaired driving actions which encompasses elements of enforcement, rehabilitation, and education.

But it is the commitment and cooperation of the individuals and organizations involved with the Task Force that have merited specific attention. Task Force members recognized that a substantial problem exists with DUI offenders who abscond from the adjudication system and/or reparation process. And that problem of outstanding DUI warrants is being addressed by the Task Force.

The cooperation between the various law enforcement agencies, so often lacking in many communities, is commendable among Pierce County LEAs. And the dialogue and cooperation between the law enforcement, adjudication, and correction agencies in Pierce County illustrate that even large groups can learn to work together smoothly when determined to reach common goals. Together the members of the Tacoma/Pierce County Task Force are closing the loopholes that DUI offenders can slip through by constructing a “public safety network” across their County.


[1] Tacoma/Pierce County DUI Task Force website, www.co.pierce.wa.us/drunkdriving

[2] The purpose of the Alliance is for members or “stakeholders” within the hospitality industry to promote healthy lifestyles and safe communities with one result being less DUI offenders.

[3] 1999 Year End Report, Pierce County Multi-agency Traffic Safety Emphasis Patrols. Also the statement printed on the back side of the victim dedication flyer handed to every motorist stopped during emphasis patrols.

[4] We note that, in Pierce County, more warrants for DUI offenders are issued for persons who fail to appear during the adjudication process than for non-payment of court-levied fines. Also, warrants are forwarded to the appropriate LEA by the District Court Administrator.