(Kansas City Star) – Missouri’s third largest city is unable to serve more than 12,000 outstanding arrest warrants to people accused of crimes such as shoplifting, traffic infractions and misdemeanor assaults because there is no room for the offenders in the county jail as a result of a bitter dispute between the sheriff and local officials.
The situation is so bad in Springfield, population 165,000, that a local judge told city officials recently that she had one docket of cases with 82 people on it and only eight bothered to show up.
Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams said offenders are thumbing their noses at police.
“They’re tearing tickets up in front of people,” Williams said. “Officers are frustrated because they can’t arrest anyone, judges are frustrated that they can’t see people, prosecutors are frustrated. It has just kind of spun out of control.”
The chaos stems from a disagreement between Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott and municipal officials over use of the county jail, which opened in 2001. The city thought it had an agreement with the county that the jail would house Springfield offenders. Arnott said that agreement is worthless because the Missouri constitution gives the sheriff the right to manage the jail. Last April he announced that the county would no longer take municipal prisoners.
Springfield is continuing to arrest offenders for more serious crimes. But the city has lost nearly half a million dollars over the past 11 months in unpaid fines and fees for more minor offenses, according to its finance director, Mary Mannix Decker.
The city of Springfield sued Arnott and the Greene County Commission in July. Arnott countersued.
While everyone agrees the county jail is routinely 100 or more inmates over its 601-bed capacity, city officials say Arnott is accepting federal inmates for which the county is paid $61 per day for each prisoner, while the city doesn’t pay for municipal offenders. The jail on Tuesday housed 110 federal inmates, according to sheriff’s spokeswoman Cpl. Cathy Ussery.
The dispute boiled over this week when police said a man with 12 outstanding municipal warrants hit a Springfield police officer with a pickup truck and dragged him 150 yards.
Springfield Mayor Bob Stevens on Tuesday called a press conference and blamed the sheriff’s decision not to accept municipal offenders for allowing the man to be on the street and cause the policeman’s serious injuries.
Sheriff Arnott responded that he was deeply offended by the mayor’s comments.
It is not clear how the impasse will be ended. City officials say there’s not much they can do until the lawsuit is resolved and no court hearing has yet been scheduled.
Overall crime is up slightly in Springfield but there is no way to determine if it is because offenders are not going to jail, the city said.