Image: trueStatement: San Diego County has more than 70,000 outstanding warrants, Jim Duffy, one of two candidates vying to replace Bill Gore as sheriff, told KPBS for a story April 21.

Determination: True

Analysis: As of April 2, the county had 74,949 outstanding warrants. About 17,600 of those warrants were for felonies and about 21,700 for misdemeanors. The rest were for court orders, juveniles or other warrants.

Duffy frequently mentions the statistic to highlight a policy disagreement with Gore over how law enforcement respond to people committing misdemeanor crimes. Should deputies arrest those offenders and take them to jail, or write tickets at the scene and release them?

In general, Duffy wants deputies to have greater discretion for putting people in jail. The Sheriff’s Department currently limits booking some misdemeanor offenders to curtail overcrowding. At the same time, the county has hundreds of beds available across multiple facilities.

“We seem to be finding ways to keep them out of jail and that’s not our role,” Duffy said in an interview. “We’re wasting the resources given to us by the public.”

The number of outstanding warrants can be a barometer of how successful law enforcement agencies are at tracking down people wanted for questioning or court appearances. When the number goes up, it can mean that agencies are less able to keep up with demand.

By putting more people in jail, Duffy said law enforcement could cut the outstanding warrants backlog. Right now, many people are taking the ticket and skipping out on paying or appearing in court. A warrant then gets issued for their arrest, adding to the backlog.

But if those people were jailed first, Duffy argues that some would more likely pay the ticket or appear in court. To be released from jail, they could pay the fine right away or make bail. If they’re released on bail, there’s an additional financial incentive for them to return.

As examples, Duffy pointed to misdemeanor crimes like trespassing, indecent exposure and prostitution. Jails won’t book solely on those offenses, unless other conditions merit an arrest, such as an outstanding warrant.

You can find the Sheriff’s Department current booking requirements here and a second list of additional misdemeanor crimes accepted for booking here.

Gore defends the county’s approach, saying jails need a buffer zone of bed space. Even having 200 beds available could mean that space designated for some offenders is unavailable, he said.

“You can’t mingle your shoplifter with your murderer,” Gore said. “You’re never going to be at full capacity.”

Gore also emphasized that deputies must weigh whether an arrest even merits making them unavailable for other incidents for several hours. He pointed to traffic tickets as an example. A deputy could arrest a person for speeding, but that would mean taking them to a jail, filling out paperwork and completing other procedures like fingerprinting. During that time, the deputy would be unable to monitor the streets for even more dangerous drivers.

“Not everybody, because they get charged with a misdemeanor, needs to go to jail,” Gore said. “There’s a determination by the local officer, is this worth taking me off my beat?”

Obviously we’re not choosing sides on this issue, but we wanted to point out that the number of outstanding warrants is true.

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Summer Polacek was formerly the Development Manager at Voice of San Diego.

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