TAMPA - Here in the Bay Area and around the country, hundreds of fugitives found with outstanding warrants are routinely released by law enforcement. They're free to walk away with no questions asked.
The reason is something called a non-extraditable warrant. It works like this: If a fugitive from California with a non-extraditable warrant is pulled over in Tampa, the officer cannot arrest or detain them unless they've committed a crime locally. Non-extraditable warrants are issued because the local agency has decided that they’re not willing to pay the cost of transporting the suspect back home.
Sgt. Chad Chronister heads up the warrants section of Hillsborough County’s Sheriffs Office. He says it's simple economics. Police agencies simply can't afford the expense of driving or flying every fugitive across the country or even across the state.
“It’s very frustrating as law officer. You sign up to protect and serve and sometimes you can't,” said Chronister.
There are some 108,000 non-extraditable warrants outstanding in the U.S. Most are for minor crimes, but some are for serious misdemeanors and felonies.
Dontae Morris, the accused killer of two Tampa police officers, had a non-extraditable warrant for passing bad checks in Jacksonville. That may not have played a role in last month's tragedy, but it shows the type of person who is, in some cases allowed to walk free despite an outstanding criminal charge.
A FBI task force is looking at the problem of non-extraditable warrants. Michael McDonald, a member of that task force, said justice is not being served when officers are forced to release known criminals back into communities. McDonald is tracking a bill in congress that would help local agencies pay for extraditions, so criminals can't escape the law simply by moving out of town.
Meanwhile, Hillsborough County has cut their outstanding warrants in half over the last two years. But budget cuts are looming. That means they may be forced to issue more non-extraditable next year.
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Sunny, dry and humid today with possible record highs today. No rain in sight, but plenty of humidity.