Archived Story

Berrien ‘booting’ vehicles

Published 4:11pm Thursday, July 19, 2012

ST. JOSEPH — Failure to pay child support in Berrien County could get you the boot.

Or, with a court order, seizure and sale of property to satisfy arrearages, which is how the county amassed eight vehicles, two boats and a scooter since launching a vehicle immobilization (booting) and property seizure program last September under Public Act 193 of 2009.

Property confiscated and auctioned includes cars, trucks — a semi tractor in a $10,000 arrearage — sport utility vehicles, all-terrain vehicles, lawn tractors, a 25-foot speedboat, boat trailers, snowmobiles and motorcycles.

Five items await auction.

Friend of the Court Thomas Watson, who will be giving a presentation at his upcoming state conference at Shanty Creek, Thursday told the board of commissioners administration committee, “This is about getting people’s attention with tools that are available. As everybody knows, jail overcrowding is a chronic problem in Berrien County. The Friend of the Court continuously seeks alternatives” to incarceration, such as K-PEP, a probation residential center funded primarily by the State of Michigan through the Office of Community Corrections, and a partnership with county Parks and Recreation for beach cleanup.

There are approximately 350 current outstanding Friend of the Court bench warrants in Berrien County, plus another 1,400 applicable warrants from other jurisdictions.

“We’re not going to run out of work,” Watson said.

In addition to $6,800 in payments to preclude further action, $15,340 obtained from property sales and $2,500 from a payer reacquiring seized property in the first six months of 2012, January through June, $12,373 has been collected and shared with the sheriff from $250 bench warrant fees for failure to appear at Monday morning show-cause hearings.

“The court has always been focused on every dollar we can collect getting to the custodial parent,” Watson said, “however, there is a cost of doing business.”

Sheriff Paul Bailey’s department set up the Friend of the Court with a Chevrolet Tahoe seized by drug forfeiture and outfitted with radio, security and technology, including a laptop for access to the Law Enforcement Intelligence Network, and Secretary of State records.

“We have two (orange) boots we use for non-payment after a lot of background work that goes into this particular initiative,” Watson said. “If people tamper with the boot, we’ll charge them with property destruction. We look at an awful lot of things before we pull the trigger. There can be two reasons to object. If the payer believes the amount of arrearage is incorrect and requests an audit be performed to substantiate. Or, he or she says we have the wrong party.”

An enforcement officer spends two days a week on the road.

Auctions take place through Excess Recovery Solutions on Coloma Road in Riverside.

“The average (online) bidding audience is 100,000 worldwide,” Watson said. “The commission is 10 percent. We have a one-time lot fee of $3, whether it’s a yacht or a scooter.”

Child support collection

Michigan, January-June, 2011

$758,414,700

Michigan, January-June 2012

$778,104,800

Up 2.6 percent

Berrien County, January-June, 2011

$13,406,700

Berrien County, January-June, 2012

$13,754,100

Up 2.6 percent

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