January 20, 2022
Final Reports
San Mateo Courts - Civil Grand Jury

2002-2003 Report:

Warrant Enforcement in San Mateo County

Summary | Background | Findings | Conclusions | Recommendations| Responses


In its study of the process for issuing arrest warrants, the Grand Jury learned there are approximately 44,000 outstanding warrants in San Mateo County. It currently takes three to five days for a local police agency to process a paper warrant after it is issued by the court. This processing time could be reduced by use of the Criminal Justice Information System (CJIS) electronic database, which has recently been installed for use by the San Mateo County Sheriff. The Grand Jury recommends use of the CJIS database by all police agencies in the county.

It also recommends that the Sheriff and the San Mateo County Police Chiefs Association consider the use of a county-wide Warrant Detail, operated by the Sheriff’s Office, to serve warrants for all law enforcement agencies within the county. Such a Warrant Detail might eventually reduce the backlog of outstanding warrants.

Issue: Is the warrant system in San Mateo County operating in an efficient manner that protects the public and fosters respect for and compliance with the law?


A warrant of arrest is a court document signed by a judge ordering any law enforcement officer to arrest a subject for a specific crime. The warrant states the charge, the amount of bail, and orders the subject brought before a judge.

A bench warrant is issued when the subject has disobeyed a specific order of the court, (i.e., failure to appear in court as required or failure to pay a fine). Bench warrants can be issued in civil proceedings without a prior arrest, or during criminal proceedings.

Once a paper warrant has been issued by the court, it takes three to five days for the particular law enforcement agency to enter the warrant into a system. Warrants entered into the Automated Warrant System (AWS), which is administered by Alameda County, are accessible by all agencies in San Mateo, San Francisco, Santa Clara and Alameda counties. Warrants entered into the Wanted Persons System (WPS) are accessible to all law enforcement agencies in California. Entering a warrant into WPS obligates the issuing agency to transport the subject from the arresting agency anywhere in California, or allow the person to be released on their own recognizance after five days.

The Criminal Justice Information System (CJIS) is a system that allows immediate electronic entry of a warrant into AWS, followed by a confirming paper warrant. Effective February 6, 2003, warrants handled by the Sheriff’s Office are entered into CJIS and can be enforced immediately. In San Mateo County at this time only the Sheriff’s Office has access to CJIS to enter warrants.

The Sheriff’s Office enforces and administers warrants for the unincorporated sections of the county, for the Probation Department, and under contract for the cities of Woodside, Portola Valley, Half Moon Bay, and Brisbane. All other city police departments in the county administer arrest warrants generated as the result of their individual law enforcement activities.

The Grand Jury interviewed officers from the Sheriff’s Office and city police departments concerning how arrest warrants are handled. It also conducted a survey of all city police departments in the county regarding polices, procedures, and protocols for serving and tracking warrants.


The Sheriff's Office estimates that there are about 44,000 outstanding warrants registered in AWS for San Mateo County. Of these, 9,000 were entered by the Sheriff's Office and the balance by city police departments. The nature of the warrant or the bail amount, determine whether a warrant is entered into WPS.

Both the Sheriff's Office and local police departments use three means to enforce warrants:

  1. Notice of a warrant may be mailed to the individual.

  2. An officer may be assigned to serve warrants, which is usually a lower priority than “in progress” police work, i.e. necessary responses to ongoing law enforcement demands.

  3. An officer engaged in law enforcement activities, such as a traffic stop, may request outstanding warrant information. If there is an outstanding warrant, an arrest is at the discretion of the officer.
Efforts within the county to expedite the enforcement of warrants include:
  • An Ad Hoc Task Force that periodically schedules personnel from the United States Marshal’s Office and various County Sheriff’s Offices to serve warrants and pick up felony suspects

  • A pool of officers from the Sheriff’s Office, the California Highway Patrol, and city police departments enforce outstanding warrants as part of a coordinated drunk driving enforcement program and joint programs focusing on the apprehension of individuals accused of domestic violence.


The current process for handling paper warrants in the county is cumbersome and inefficient and leads to delays in serving of warrants. Each law enforcement agency has its own guidelines and policies concerning warrants.

Typically only serious crimes, such as felonies or violent offenses, (assault, spousal battering, etc.) and those with bail set at $7,500 or more will result in an arrest on the basis of the outstanding warrant information. Often a patrol officer has access only to information on the warrant. More complete criminal information on the suspect, including the person’s photograph, might result in a better and safer arrest decision.

While there are no reliable statistics available on the percentage of warrants served in the county, law enforcement officers stated that more warrants could be served with a concentrated effort on the part of police agencies. Greater cooperation between city police departments and the County Sheriff’s Office might bring about speedier and more efficient service of warrants.

A Warrant Detail operated by the Sheriff’s Office to process and serve warrants for the county and all cities in the county might bring a higher priority to warrant activities. This might reduce transmittals and handling costs, shorten time delays in processing warrants, and allow police departments to focus on “in progress” law enforcement.


  1. The Sheriff’s Office should coordinate with all law enforcement agencies to use CJIS for entry of all newly issued and outstanding warrants into AWS.

  2. The Police Chiefs Association and the Sheriff’s Office should study the feasibility of creating a centralized county Warrant Detail under the jurisdiction of the Sheriff to serve and enforce warrants for both the county and cities county-wide. Alternately, the Sheriff’s Office and city police departments should develop a standardized policy for the coordinated enforcement of arrest warrants and bench warrants.

  3. Greater use should be made of programs such as the Ad Hoc Task Force to reduce the backlog of outstanding warrants.

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