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Warrant unit of Hall County Sheriff’s Office stays busy

POSTED: September 27, 2013 1:00 a.m.

The warrant unit may be the Hall County Sheriff’s Office’s most visible department, with officers hitting the streets serving about 20 warrants per day, but it doesn’t always make the news.

The Sept. 18 walkaway of two work release inmates, reported Monday, put a spotlight on the unit tasked with finding the two men.

“It’s not that what we do is secret. We’re very much out in the open. We don’t just sneak in and grab somebody, we knock on the door,” sheriff’s office Jail Commander Capt. Danny Woods said.

Keeping a low profile, though, can sometimes serve a purpose, Woods said.

“It’s not unlike what you see on TV. It depends on what we’re doing,” he said. “If we have a good lead on somebody, and they’re actively avoiding us, then we do tell people, if we have to, we do lay up in the woods and wait for somebody to come home in camouflage clothes. We do the whole nine yards. Do we have to do that very often? No. But it is something that we do. We do surveillance on houses, known addresses — set up on them for a couple (of) days.”

The vast majority of the time, he said, the accused is caught.

“We almost always pick them up. These guys are very good at what they do. It’s very hard not to get found,” Woods said.

Serving arrest warrants is part of the constitutional requirement of the sheriff’s office, along with operation of the courthouse and jail.

Warrants can include anything from a slaying to a failure to appear for a speeding ticket, Woods said. And they can originate from a citizen complaint, with magistrate judge approval, all the way up to a felony indictment.

“We typically serve about 600 warrants a month, and we receive somewhere in that neighborhood,” Woods said. “We’re staying pretty good. We’ve actually over the past 10 years managed to reduce our warrant count substantially through service and (through) warrants being recalled by the court because they were settled in different manners.”

Eight officers (and one bloodhound) serve full time, under the supervision of two sergeants and one lieutenant.

Officers do their own investigative legwork to track and find the men and women on whom they serve the warrants.

“We investigate not unlike what criminal investigations does. The only difference is we have to go and find our witnesses and our C.I.’s, or confidential informants, who basically tell us where people are hiding, and so forth,” Lt. Scottie Seymour said. “There’s a whole network of people out here who we consider to be good citizens. If they know something, they let us know.”

He said officers use all types of resources, including newer means such as social media.

“We do utilize those to find out known contacts — Facebook, Twitter. ... They will literally go on Facebook and be standing next to the person who is known to us, and it will say ‘posted 37 seconds ago,’” Woods said.

“I get emails. Lt. Seymour gets email. I have people who call me and tell me directly,” he added.

Seymour recounted some of the more bizarre places he’s found an arrestee.

“We had a female, every time we went there, she wouldn’t be there — finally someone told us she was hiding in the dryer,” he said.

Sgt. Stephen Wilbanks, sheriff’s office spokesman, said he once pulled a wanted man from under a pile of laundry.

But there’s a dangerous aspect to seeking people within their turf as well.

“You never know if they’re armed, what kind of weapons they have, when you find them,” Seymour said.

Woods agreed, explaining the unit uses two-man squads for safety.

“You can pretty well bet when you go to somebody’s house, they have a weapon. They may not consider it weapon — it may just be a kitchen knife, or it could be a ball bat that their kid plays ball with, it could be anything. But you’re going into their world, where they know where everything is at, and you know where nothing is at,” he said.

Ultimately, Woods said, serving the community fairly can breed the most important contacts.

“You build relationships with people over the year, and I’m not just talking about citizens — I’m talking about the people who come through the jail,” Woods said. “If you deal with somebody fairly when you meet them on patrol, you can develop so many contacts that way, and they will contact you. ... people that are out there try to do the right thing most of the time.”


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