What Is a Warrant Number?

Jessica Saras

A warrant number is a sequence of numbers, letters, or numbers and letters that serves as an identification for use within the law enforcement field. In modern times, the numbers are usually entered into electronic databasing systems for easy retrieval and storage; most of the time, simply entering the number will bring up all sorts of information pertaining to the case for which it was issued or the person who did the issuing. Different countries have slightly different filing systems. In some, including the United States, each warrant that’s issued has a unique number, but in others, most notably the United Kingdom, each police officer has his or her own unique number which is affixed to any warrant he or she issues. The main idea is still about the same, though; namely, to have an organized and intentional system for organizing the authorizing paperwork that leads to arrests, searches, and other police activities.

A warrant allows a police officer to arrest an individual without their consent.
A warrant allows a police officer to arrest an individual without their consent.

Understanding Warrants Generally

Warrants are court-ordered documents that provide law enforcement officials with power to perform certain actions, usually constrained by a certain limited timeframe or specific physical parameters. Some warrants allow officers to enter a home and search it for contraband, for instance; others permit the arrest of named individuals. Acting without a warrant to do these or similar things can often make them invalid, and as such can allow suspects to walk free on what’s more or less a technicality. Numerical ordering systems allow the courts and local governments to keep track of the warrants that have been issued, and create an easy way for them to be recalled and re-examined for future reference.

Once a warrant has been issued by a judge, the information pertaining to it is entered into an electronic database.
Once a warrant has been issued by a judge, the information pertaining to it is entered into an electronic database.

Different Uses in Different Places

Each warrant issued in the U.S. has a unique number, typically consisting of nine to eleven digits or letters. In modern times this number is almost always generated by an electronic database. Each state and even some localities has their own systems for creating numbers, but most of the time the warrants are coded with identifiers that can trace it back to the court that issued it. In general, law enforcement officers use these numbers to track and locate active, canceled, and void warrants.

In the United Kingdom and Hong Kong, a warrant number is used to identify police officers rather than court warrants. Located on the officer’s identification card, or warrant card, the number usually consists of eight digits. Warrant cards are used to verify an officer's authority, and in addition to number they typically contain information such as name and rank. A photograph and signature may also be included on warrant cards in some jurisdictions.

In most instances, an officer’s warrant number will change if he or she moves to a different department or is given a new rank. Officers usually have to present their number to interested parties the same way they’d have to show their badge. It is a symbol of authority that carries a lot of power.

Importance of Numerical Filing

Tracking warrants is usually an important part of an orderly law enforcement system. Whether warrants are ordered by issuer or case defendant, they usually contain a lot of information about the parties involved and the case-specific facts that have use should similar cases arise in the future, or should the same parties be involved in another matter at a later time. Orderly filing also provides accountability, and allows for at least some oversight in what could otherwise become a chaotic system.

Software Integration

Many courts rely on warrant management software to create, issue, and track orders in the system. In addition to the warrant number, such programs manage important data such as the defendant’s name, address, date of birth, gender, race, height and weight, and known aliases. The exact offense associated with the warrant is also documented for future use. Most also allow for more advanced searches using any of these factors.

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Discussion Comments


How can I find out what the warrant clause is? I need the number to find out what it's for.


When an officer hands you the first page of four with no name, no address, no items to be searched for, no warrant number, no district attorney's signature and a biased judge, who do you complain to?


On one warrant number, can two people be arrested? Two different people, one warrant number?


@JaneAir - It's interesting to think of the police force in terms of paperwork! I always imagine most police work involves shoot outs, car chases, and kicking down doors. However, I'm sure someone has to fill out the paperwork after all the excitement is over!


Luckily, the only experience I have with warrants comes from watching Law and Order. I suppose I should have guessed that all warrants had some sort of number attached to them.

When you're dealing with any kind of bureaucracy, I feel like it's safe to assume that some sort of numbering system well be involved. I'm sure the bureaucrats involved are much happier since the advent of computerized systems for keeping track of the warrants though.

However, I deal with computer databases at my job, and sometimes they are incorrect. I hope the police check all their information twice before they make their arrests!

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