Several nights each week, a Columbia police officer is left waiting at a crime scene in the middle of the night for judicial officials to arrive and sign search and arrest warrants.
The waiting game keeps cops off their regular beats and sometimes keeps them waiting after their shifts end, Chief Randy Scott said.
And the increasing nighttime police work is taxing the judicial officials, known as ministerial recorders. These city employees must wake up, get dressed and drive to a crime scene in the middle of the night, said Columbia’s Chief Administrative Judge Dana Turner. That same person might be scheduled to work the next day.
“We are as busy at night as we are in the day,” Scott said.
To handle the load, Scott and Turner want to hire an additional ministerial recorder, who would work nights and weekends. They pitched the request to City Council’s public safety committee last week when Scott presented an update on the police department’s staffing needs.
Scott also said he wants to expand his records office because his officers are generating more paperwork than ever. Before Scott was hired, the department had 56 vacancies. All officer positions are filled, and that has led to more cases, he said.
Ministerial recorders are similar to magistrates and city judges. They can sign warrants, set bonds and issue subpoenas. But they don’t have judicial authority to rule on cases. They are appointed by City Council, take an oath of office and receive the same training and certification as city judges.
The recorders earn a base pay of $36,000 a year, Turner said.
The city employs three ministerial recorders who cover weekday shifts between 5 a.m. and 9 p.m. and are on-call at night and on weekends, said Dana Turner, the city’s chief administrative judge. The city once had a full-time ministerial recorder for nights and weekend duties but that position was cut several years ago, she said.
For now, those recorders rotate on-call duties for nights and weekends. If needed, they must get dressed and go to the courtroom to meet officers, Turner said.
Scott said that leaves other officers to guard a scene for three or four hours while the warrants are obtained.
Council members appeared receptive to the idea. Now, they must figure out how to pay for it. The city’s budget cycle runs from July 1 to June 30 so there isn’t money in the current budget to hire additional staff.
“We’re going to give them all the tools they need,” Councilman Moe Baddourah said.
Reach Phillips at (803) 771-8307.