The sheriff’s department in Iowa’s most populous county is experimenting with a new type of law enforcement — called self-arrest. More than 150 people with outstanding Polk County warrants were sent letters, telling them how to turn themselves in and be processed at a certain time and date at the courthouse in downtown Des Moines.
About a third of the letters were returned due to old or bad addresses, but Deputy Jana Rooker says 12 people actually came in — and one saw the warrant dismissed. "So of those 11, they were all fingerprinted that needed to be. They saw the judge and they got a fine or got another court date, but one of the two, and then they went on their way."
Rooker says the county’s first test of this process went smoothly. "Only the people who receive these letters do qualify," Deputy Rooker says. "That would include charges like an O-W-I, theft charges, driving while license suspended and we did have somebody with a charge of possession of a controlled substance." She says the self-arrest program benefits the taxpayers of Polk County and law enforcement agencies, in addition to the person facing charges.
Rooker says: "They’re never actually in our custody. It saves people time. If they get pulled over for a traffic violation, typically, if they have a warrant, they would be taken to jail, their car would be impounded, it’s a big inconvenience for them, and then there’s additional fees with the car being impounded. This way, we can avoid all that, make it a convenient time and save everybody some time and money."
Rooker says participation was better than expected so they plan to send another round of self-arrest letters for a court date in June.