County Checkmating Bad Checks

December 17, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Kent County prosecutor said his department’s bad check restitution program has made some significant progress in its short history.

William Forsyth said the one-year-old program has helped local merchants recoup losses from checks that have bounced, has helped ease the burden of law enforcement agencies from having to investigate what are sometimes petty crimes, and has helped to clear court dockets of these cases.

“The purpose of the program is to get restitution to businesses,” Forsyth told members of the county’s Legislative Committee last week.

The Kent County Prosecutor’s Office initiated the program in November 2006. From January through October of 2007, more than $208,200 in restitution had been made to businesses and other victims of bad checks. At the same time, the prosecutor’s office earned more than $7,100 from the program to help cover expenses.

“We’ve collected about $210,000 since the program started,” said Forsyth last week of the most recent restitution figure.

Under the program, first-time offenders can avoid criminal prosecution if they agree to make good on their bad checks and attend classes that teach them how to better manage their money. They have to pay for the classes, and the prosecutor’s office gets a portion of that revenue.

Through the first 10 months of this year, 837 first-time check bouncers had attended the money-management classes, and 5,334 bad checks had been referred to the program.

“The program doesn’t cost taxpayers any money,” said Forsyth.

Forsyth said a fairly new witness-fee program has shown progress, too. The nearly three-year-old effort now only calls for the lead detective and the victim to appear at a preliminary examination. The program has eliminated the need to subpoena additional witnesses because most of these hearings are waived and testimony is not needed.

Forsyth said the program has lowered the fees his office pays witnesses, and witnesses are not brought into court unnecessarily.

“We have to pay each one to come in,” he said. “We have to pay for their mileage and their parking.”

The prosecutor said that even though his office’s caseload grew by 846 cases from 2004 through 2006, his department was able to subpoena 5,714 fewer witnesses and reduce fees to witnesses by almost $24,500 through the program.

Forsyth also said local police agencies, including the Kent County Sheriff’s Department, have had to pay less overtime to off-duty officers who are no longer required to appear as witnesses at preliminary examinations.

“It’s a great program,” said Kent County Commissioner Nadine Klein, also a family law attorney, who complimented Forsyth on his leadership. “They not only coordinate witnesses but they also prepare them emotionally.”

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