BY THE NUMBERS
Active warrants in area North Georgia counties
County: Felonies/Misdemeanors/Bench warrants/Total
* Dade: 457/455 N/A 912
Walker: 958 combined/529/1,885
* Dade County numbers include bench warrants and other types within the felonies and misdemeanors.
Source: Catoosa, Chattooga, Dade and Walker sheriffs' offices
Walker County, Ga., investigators took out warrants for James Ahlquise in July after he was accused of dragging a woman by the arm from his car and then wrestling a deputy to the ground to flee arrest.
But Ahlquise, 27, was only arrested on felony warrants for aggravated assault and obstruction of an officer four months later, when he was found at a home in Rossville on Nov. 3.
Walker County sheriff's authorities said these kinds of scenarios happen more often than they would like, but there's no simple solution to cutting down on active warrants that pile up.
"We'd like to have them all served, but it's impractical and impossible," said Sheriff Steve Wilson. "That's something you can never catch up on."
Across North Georgia, thousands of active warrants on charges ranging from misdemeanor traffic stops to felonies such as child molestation and aggravated assault haven't been served.
Meanwhile, critics say, the accused may be out there committing other crimes.
Authorities say the backlog is caused by many factors including lack of resources and suspects who flee the state. If people don't show up for court, judges issue new bench warrants for their arrest.
While some departments have the manpower to check on active warrants daily, other departments can't spare the officers.
"We do as much as we can with the limited resources we have and limited manpower," said Dade County Chief Deputy Danny Ellis.
WORKING THE PROBLEM
Catoosa and Walker counties -- close in population size -- have similar active warrant counts, Catoosa with 2,191 and Walker with 1,885.
Authorities say that number is consistent with previous years.
On average, Catoosa County deputies serve 300 to 400 warrants a month, while Walker County serves about 115 a month, authorities said.
"We do a pretty good job of getting ours served," said Capt. Scott Jordan with the Catoosa County Sheriff's Office. "We don't have the same issues as some of your bigger cities."
The Dade County Sheriff's Office has served 176 so far this year.
Ellis said the department tries to plan occasional roundups to serve numerous warrants, but that's only when time allows.
Once a year, several local law enforcement offices together will attempt to serve numerous warrants in a region of the counties, with priority on more severe charges, authorities said.
Felony warrants on charges such as child molestation and aggravated assault, which involve suspects considered a greater public safety risk, are given first priority in warrants divisions, Wilson said. But those suspects often are the hardest to find and may already have fled the jurisdiction.
The older a case the harder it is to prosecute, authorities said.
Even if a person is found years later, many cases are dropped because too much time has passed, Wilson said. Only a few felonies, such as rape and murder, aren't subject to time limits for prosecution.
Bench warrants also skew the numbers, Jordan said. If the suspect is never caught or authorities don't know he has been arrested in another jurisdiction, the warrant stays in the system.
To keep the numbers accurate, officers try to purge cases and ask a judge to remove old warrants from the system.
In September, the Catoosa County Sheriff's Office removed more than 900 outstanding warrants for probation violation from the database because the cases had expired, Jordan said.
In Walker County, authorities got a court order to purge 460 old warrants from their system, mostly bad-check cases and misdemeanors, Wilson said. But a few of the warrants were other felonies.
"We exhausted all efforts [on those cases]," he said. "It's kind of like chasing rabbits."
Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...