For Travis County deputy constables Charles Dobbins and Robert Cantu, the Great Texas Warrant Roundup began 6:30 a.m. Monday with a cup of coffee and a stack of warrant papers. The day’s mission was to locate and collect money from as many people with outstanding class C misdemeanor warrants as possible in the downtown Austin area.
The yearly Roundup dates back to 2001, but became a statewide initiative in 2006, with courts and law enforcement agencies from more than 300 jurisdictions participating in the Roundup. Last year, cops cleared 11,000 warrants in Austin alone. Throughout the week, Travis County deputy constables will focus on clearing the warrants of 4,000 citizens.
Cantu said the agency notifies individuals two weeks prior to the Roundup in order to give them a chance to pay off their warrants before being confronted by police at their homes or workplaces. In addition to the two-week grace period, officers give people a chance to pay tickets before taking them before a judge.
“It’s really about people getting the issues resolved, not about going to jail,” Cantu said. “The sheriff does not want them in jail. There’s no space.”
According to Sgt. Denise Lozano, when people realize there is an opportunity to pay tickets without being arrested, they typically call the county before the Roundup starts.
“We’ve already collected about $25,000 since we sent out the notices on Feb. 14th,” Lozano said.
For those who cannot afford to pay tickets, Herb Evans, who is justice of the peace for Austin’s Precinct 5, sometimes substitutes community service.
“I can be pretty creative with community service, if you qualify,” Evans said.
While the county constables focus on traffic-related offenses, APD officers will target people with any misdemeanor warrants. Unlike county officers, APD officers will not accept payment once they have arrived to make an arrest, according to APD officer Jermaine Kilgore.
“All the payment is done at the courthouse,” Kilgore said. “We just come to pick them up, and then they have to go right then and there to take care of the warrant.”
Since Saturday, APD has made 53 arrests as part of the Roundup. Dobbins, who partners with Cantu on warrant arrests, said the Roundup’s purpose is mainly to bring in revenue for the county.
“A lot of people say ‘Well, I just want to sit it out in jail,’ and, for a couple of nights, they get their three meals and they’re out — tickets are cleared,” Dobbins said. “But [the county] wants the money.”
Dobbins said the agency usually resolves all cases by the end of the weeklong Roundup, although sometimes officers run into problems locating individuals.
“It’s hit or miss. You can’t go out thinking you’ll get everybody you go to,” Dobbins said. “Last year, we didn’t have a lot of luck. There was a lot of trouble getting in contact with people.”
Lozano said publicity of the Roundup helps citizens take warrants more seriously.
“We tell them we’re coming out, so I think they realize they should take care of it,” Lozano said.
Around noon Monday, Dobbins and Cantu arrested Adrian Lama for an outstanding warrant for disregarding a stop sign while on a bicycle.
“Aw, man,” Lama said as Cantu put him in the backseat of the squad car.