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"The List" a warrant service strategy.

Located in southeastern Virginia, the Newport News Police Department serves a population of over 180,000 in a jurisdiction covering nearly 70 square miles. With a force of just over 400 full-time law enforcement officers, the department found itself plagued with thousands of outstanding warrants. To help remedy this, it decided to publish "The List," as citizens referred to it, in the local newspaper. The alphabetical, two-page announcement containing the name of every person who had an outstanding warrant in the city of Newport News ran only for 1 day, but the results proved long lasting.


The Problem

As of November 29, 2004, the department had over 4,000 outstanding warrants on file, comprised of 2,692 misdemeanors and 1,395 felonies. Many of the fugitives were wanted for violent crimes, including the use of weapons upon their victims. The department's small Fugitive Apprehension Unit could not reduce the number of warrants with its normal service process partly because almost half of the fugitives lived beyond the city limits. The unit often sent letters to nonviolent fugitives living outside the area advising them to come to the station to have the warrant served on them. For violent offenders, the unit relied on the jurisdiction in which the fugitive lived to attempt to serve the warrant. These other agencies, however, also had backlogs of unserved warrants. With older warrants not being served and approximately 1,800 new ones coming in each month, the department needed a solution that would reduce the surplus.

The Idea

Appointed on August 1, 2004, the chief has a mantra of "fighting crime is our number one priority" that drives every operational decision in the department. His statements and actions have amply demonstrated that the department will work with the citizens of Newport News to reduce crime and make the city a safe place to work, live, and spend leisure time. He has tasked each division to think "outside the box" and develop new, proactive strategies to deal with crime. Every action should reinforce the crime-fighting effort that he has embraced.

The Plan

The decision to publish "The List" required an in-depth operational plan. The commander of the Fugitive Apprehension Unit prepared the details to handle the project, dubbed Operation Clean Sweep. With emphasis on ridding the city of fugitives, drugs, and guns, the department knew that once the newspaper published the announcement, it had to have a system approach for responding to the telephone calls.

Operation Clean Sweep involved members of many units in the department, as well as personnel from the sheriff's department. In addition, the FBI learned of the venture and committed nine agents from its Norfolk office. Each unit had a function that would contribute to the project's success. Overall, the department assembled a staff committed to the operation that began on December 6 at 3 a.m. and lasted until 11:30 p.m. the following night.

The Public Information Office worked out the details of the publication of the names with the newspaper, including the cost. Ultimately, the U.S. Attorney's Office agreed to pay for the two-page notice because the operation included the removal of guns and drugs from the community, a tie-in with the Project Safe Neighborhoods program. (1)

The Action

On the morning of December 6, the announcement containing 3,947 names appeared in the newspaper. It gave the telephone number of the Fugitive Apprehension Unit with instructions for citizens to call the number if they knew the whereabouts of someone named.

The Operation Clean Sweep plan consisted of an office team of dispatchers, staff assistants, volunteers, and detectives. The civilian personnel and volunteers fielded calls from citizens and persons who had outstanding warrants. They directed those individuals whose names appeared where to turn in themselves to have the warrant served. They also completed lead sheets on tips received from citizens who called with information on the location of fugitives. Detectives immediately received the lead sheets to determine if an active warrant existed. If one did, they contacted the appropriate operation street team for an attempted service of the warrant.


The Planning Division had provided an alphabetized list of warrants divided into precincts. Each had two or three street teams assigned to attempt service of these warrants when not acting on leads received from citizens. If they made an arrest that required transportation for booking, a team comprised of a sheriff's deputy and a police officer took the prisoner to the jail. The sheriff's department handled the entire booking and magistrate's process, rather than requiring one of the street team members to become involved.

As soon as the newspaper arrived at residences and businesses on the morning of December 6, leads began to come in to the published telephone number. "The List" became commonplace, hanging on office walls throughout the community. The newspaper sold all of its copies that day. The department received an offer from a local car dealership to pay for future announcements due to the increased volume of sales of the newspaper. Representatives from the local news stations and the national media accompanied the street teams and generated positive stories about the operation.

The Results

Operation Clean Sweep ended on December 7, 2004, after the department received 381 calls from citizens throughout the region. Officers attempted to serve 294 warrants and arrested 127 of these individuals on 135 charges. One week after the operation, 207 arrests had been made with more occurring in the following months. An incredible number of individuals surrendered with many doing so because of pressure from family members after reading their names in the newspaper. The notice also caused fugitives from outside the city limits to submit to arrest.

While the primary objective of the operation was to reduce the number of active warrants, the department had other successes from it as well. It offered a dramatic statement to the citizens that the department had directed its focus on fighting crime. Arresting fugitives undoubtedly reduced the potential for them to commit more crimes, and the operation sent a strong message to individuals contemplating criminal activity in the city. Needless to say, the citizens in the community were extremely pleased that the department removed the fugitives from their midst.


The Newport News, Virginia, Police Department faced a challenge that many other law enforcement agencies have encountered: a large number of outstanding warrants. With limited resources, the department decided to attack the problem using an innovative approach. It published the names of the people who had outstanding warrants in the city in its local newspaper.

The members of the department once again had applied the problem-solving concept of using a creative response to a traditional law enforcement problem. A total of 141 people participated over the 48 hours of the operation, and city residents felt the impact of their efforts.


(1) For additional information, access

Chief Fox heads the Newport News, Virginia, Police Department.

Lieutenant New commands the Fugitive Apprehension Unit of the Newport News, Virginia, Police Department.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Police Practice
Author:New, Michael S.
Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2005
Previous Article:Book Review.
Next Article:Unidentified homicide victim.

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