Addressing citizen concerns on homeless transients, court backlog, public safety

BY Robert Rickerd, Owensville City Marshal
Posted 7/14/21

I wanted to take a minute to inform the public about the recent concerns that myself and/or citizens may have in reference to the increase of individuals roaming our community who may or may not be …

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Addressing citizen concerns on homeless transients, court backlog, public safety

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I wanted to take a minute to inform the public about the recent concerns that myself and/or citizens may have in reference to the increase of individuals roaming our community who may or may not be homeless.
The Owensville Police Department has noticed over the past six months an increase of dealing with individuals that are homeless. Several factors may be resulting in this increase.
Prior to COVID starting, there were several homeless shelters within the state that Owensville police could reach out to that would assist us in providing a place for these individuals to go temporarily. They would even assist in helping these individuals find employment.
However, that is not the case anymore.
A majority of these shelters are overcrowded and have no space available.
Another factor that we are seeing with these individuals is those residences they were temporarily staying at (family member, friend, etc.) do not want them around any longer so they are getting evicted. In some cases these individuals may have been the victim of being evicted themselves from their own residence due to financial problems.
Another problem is our broken judicial system which has taken a change for the worse over the past couple of years since the new Missouri Law that took effect in the summer of 2019.
This law basically places restrictions on police officers arresting subjects and taking them to jail pending a warrant being issued for their arrest. This new law is referred to in a lot of law enforcement as the “catch and release law.”
In short, unless law enforcement can prove to the prosecuting attorney that the subject is a threat to the community and, or a victim, while seeking a warrant for their arrest, the subject must be released on a court summons or their own recognizance. Probably over 75 percent of our cases/arrests will fall into this category (i.e. ordinance violations such as trespassing, stealing, assault, etc.)
In some incidences, even lower-degree felonies will fall into this category.
Not only has this law placed restrictions on law enforcement but also some restrictions on prosecuting attorneys and judges. This is why we often consider this “catch and release.”
So now, these subjects that are released on summons or their own recognizance, most of the time, fail to appear in court.
The court system allows them to appear for an initial appearance. When they don’t show then, a show cause letter is issued. If they do not appear for their show cause, a warrant for their arrest is then issued.
Here comes the hard part…finding these individuals.
How do we locate individuals, who have active warrants, who do not have a mailing or physical address and “float” from house to house?
This can occur locally or within another jurisdiction. As you can see, this is very frustrating for law enforcement as we are running in circles with this entire judicial system process.
I can assure the public the Owensville Police Department, along with other local law enforcement agencies, are doing everything we can to respond to calls, arrest and charge individuals through the court system.
Just as an example, as of today’s date we have approximately 200 cases pending through our municipal court. Think about that, really?
We have 200 cases pending?
This is plain crazy. Remember, municipal court handles municipal city ordinance violations (theft, assault, shoplifting, peace disturbance, etc.). Some of these current pending cases in municipal court are dating back to the incident occurring in 2018. The felonies get charged through state court.
Over the past six months, the Owensville Police Department has arrested numerous individuals on traffic stops with felony possession of drugs (meth, heroin, fentanyl, etc.) and/or distribution. However, these cases are still pending in the court system and being investigated by our LANEG drug task force (Lake Area Narcotics Enforcement Group).
In conclusion, myself, along with the city’s Building Code Enforcement Officer, within the past six months have issued approximately 60 citations for nuisance/building code violations in the community. I strongly believe community upkeep is a proactive approach to help deter any more unwanted issues and/or crime in our community. Along with the public’s help in reporting situations of concern, we will stay focused on keeping the community of Owensville safe in all aspects.
(Robert Rickerd is the elected city marshal for the city of Owensville and serves as chief of the police department).

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