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Approval of Burris arrest warrant took 8 days (and that's fast?)


Patrick Burris' parole officer wanted him back in jail two weeks before he killed five people in Gaffney, South Carolina. His parole officer issued a violation report on a Thursday for repeatedly missing curfew. The following Monday, the North Carolina Parole Commission authorized an arrest warrant. It then took another four days for that arrest warrant to be drafted and signed. By then - June 12 - a week had gone by. Now, the North Carolina Department of Correction is seeing if it can speed up its process for approving arrest warrants. It's undoubtedly slow, but it may actually be fast compared to other states. WFAE's Lisa Miller reports. What happened on Friday, June 12, is somewhat complicated. Burris showed up for a meeting in Lincolnton with parole officer Angela Merrill. He got there by driving without a license, so she had him arrested on the spot. She had already requested a warrant for his arrest eight days earlier for the other parole violations. From here, it gets a bit murky. The arrest warrant came through at 4 p.m. She didn't contact the jail immediately. Later that evening, a Department of Correction spokesman says Merrill checked the county jail's web site. She couldn't find Burris' name and assumed he had been released. But Burris was still in jail. He didn't post bond until 10:30 that night. However, that wouldn't have mattered if the correction department immediately flagged Burris as a parole violator in its computer system. That information didn't show up until the next day. "From everything I know at this point I think that appears to be probably typical of the time it takes for a routine warrant to be processed," says Keith Acree, a department of correction spokesman. "We're looking at the entire process of how warrants for parole or post-release revocation are handled to see what we can do to streamline that process of processing and handling warrants more quickly and getting them into the field and into the hands of the officers that requested them more quickly," says Acree. But even with today's instant communications, an eight day process is impressive compared to other states, according to Mario Paparozzi. He's a former head of the American Probation and Parole Association and a former chairman of New Jersey's parole board. "It could easily have taken two weeks to thirty days for something to work its way through a large bureaucracy with processing, mailing or transmission electronically and so on. That is an incredibly efficient turnaround time," says Paparozzi. Paparozzi is now chairman of the sociology and criminal justice department at UNC Pembroke. He's often a keynote speaker at law enforcement conferences. "In this particular case it does not appear that the system was negligent," says Paparozzi. "It appears the system did everything it could do and did it well and we still had a failure." Even though Burris served nearly eight years as a habitual felon, he didn't have a history of violent crime - certainly nothing that suggested he would go on a killing spree. "If we were to ramp up the devotion of resources to get the four days down to zero for the highly unlikely event that you'll have a Burris case, then one has to weigh the expenditure of resources against the likelihood of a Burris type case occurring," adds Paparozzi. "I know that sounds cold, but that's the way frankly hospitals operate, airline industry operates, and banking and so on." North Carolina's parole system has undergone some changes since the high-profile murders of a UNC student body president and a Duke University grad student early last year. In those cases, parole officers lost track of the men charged with the murders. Last fall, the General Assembly gave the Department of Correction $2.5 million to hire twenty new probation officers and six supervisors to help ease caseloads. Burris' parole officer was busy on the day his arrest warrant was ready. A department of correction spokesman says the officer met with at least two dozen parolees that day.