Come and pay up, or the men and women of the Columbus Police Department are coming to get you.
Columbus Mayor Robert Smith and Police Chief Joseph St. John expressed that simple message today at a press conference at the Columbus Municipal Building.
“Beginning today, and going through April 30, the Columbus Municipal Court in conjunction with the Columbus Police Department is offering amnesty to anyone who comes to the police department voluntarily to pay any outstanding fines owed to the Municipal Court,” Smith said.
Smith said he urges all who owe outstanding fines to the city to come in and pay them. He also stressed the amnesty will be granted only to those who come to the police department to pay.
And if you don”t pay your debt? “For the next six weeks, our police officers will be out in full force serving warrants,” Smith said.
City of Columbus Municipal Court Administrator Lou Dudley said there are at least 2,600 outstanding warrants that need to be taken care of. However, there are no monetary figures available.
“It is not all about the money; some of these are private affidavits that individuals have filed against another person, so we do not have a specific amount that persons owe to the court,” Dudley said.
St. John said while the amnesty officially begins today, efforts have already begun to take care of the problem. He also said these warrants do not involve any outstanding felony charges.
“These mostly deal with contempt of court charges for simple assault along with the private affidavits filed. Through this amnesty program, a person can voluntarily come to the Police Department to pay their outstanding fine. That is the key, they have to come voluntarily to pay their fine,” he said.
He said if a person has a contempt of court charge, and they come to the department, through the amnesty program, the contempt charge will be removed, but they will still have to pay their fine.
St. John added that on Thursday and Friday, his officers will begin hitting the streets to serve warrants to those who do not voluntarily come to the department to pay. This is scheduled to start both days at 6 a.m.
St. John said there are other purposes for the amnesty program.
“This also allows us to purge our records of those who have failed to pay and have died or moved away. In some cases, the individual who filed the affidavit may have moved on and forgotten about it, or they have passed on,” he said.
St. John said he wants to make sure this becomes a more manageable process in the future.
“We are working to reduce the number of outstanding warrants from the current and work our way back,” he said.
Columbus Police Department Public Information Officer Terrie Songer said some of the warrants go back to the 1990s.
“We have found some that go back to 1993,” she said.
Songer stresses the importance of this being a voluntarily amnesty program.
“If you voluntarily come in to pay, you have amnesty. If we have to come to your place of business or home an make an arrest, that is an arrest, that is not amnesty,” she said.
Allen Baswell was previously a reporter for The Dispatch.