Monday, Jan. 19, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Beyond the Sun
One way to stem a budget crisis is to cut costs, as Las Vegas officials are anxiously doing.
Another way is to find new ways to raise money, which is the main purpose of an expanded warrants program about to go into effect at Las Vegas Municipal Court. The result of the change will be more knocks on doors of speeders and other traffic violators who refuse to pay their court-ordered fines.
Under the program, the court’s field marshals will work more closely with another court division, the Judicial Enforcement Unit, which collects debts owed the city for traffic infractions and other misdemeanors, including drunken driving and domestic assault.
With the one marshal to be hired to fill a vacancy, and four new part-time clerks, the court hopes the marshals will be able to serve an additional 1,300 warrants annually, and net at least $700,000 for city coffers, after personnel costs are subtracted.
After the new marshal is hired, one of the nine field marshals will be assigned to work full-time with the enforcement unit.
In fiscal 2008, the field marshals served 11,169 warrants. During that period, the court’s enforcement unit collected $5.6 million, Municipal Court Administrator James Carmany said.
The goal of the changes primarily is to enforce traffic fine collections, Carmany said. These are the misdemeanor warrants issued when drivers cited for moving violations such as speeding or aggressive driving either don’t show up in court, or show up and promise to pay but don’t.
“This will be more of a precise effort” to collect unpaid traffic fines, Carmany said. “It used to be a shotgun approach. Now, it’s more of a rifle approach, and being able to better target the individuals who owe the court money.”
When collecting fines in traffic cases, the efforts of the two units will give the marshals more up-to-date address information, so they waste less time trying to track down individuals.
According to Carmany and Keith Gronquist, the court’s division manager who oversees the marshals unit, even though they’re serving misdemeanor warrants, the field marshals — usually working alone — never quite know what to expect.
As many as 50 percent of those served, for example, have previously been charged with violent crimes, Gronquist said. And a significant percentage of those with traffic warrants have outstanding warrants of other types.
With the aid of new clerks, marshals will have better access to this information, enabling them to be better prepared when they knock on doors.
According to Gronquist, the marshals generally face two types of traffic violators. The first are mostly law-abiding people who, when faced with a marshal at their door demanding money — under threat of arrest — comply immediately, if they can.
The other type have other warrants or charges on their records, including folks who move from address to address and prove difficult to find.
Gronquist and Carmany stressed that field marshals have discretion as to whether an arrest is warranted. More often than not it is avoided, they said, through on-the-spot collections made by phone or through a payment device the marshal brings with him — or at least with a sincere-sounding promise of future payment.
Regardless, Gronquist said, the principle is the same. A law was broken and a debt to the city is owed.
“This is money that’s owed to us, and in these tight financial times, that’s important,” Gronquist said. “But compliance is important to us, too.”