Broward County

Deadbeat patrol: Broward deputies fan out to catch parents who owe child support

Armed with an arrest warrant, Broward sheriff’s Deputy John Milligan walked up to a Miramar home and pounded on the door looking for Patrick O’Neill.

O’Neill is $2,500 behind in child support, a Broward judge said. It was up to Milligan to haul him to jail.

But a woman who answered the door said O’Neill had not been at home since April. The deputies, carrying a warrant with the authority to search the property, looked around before leaving. She gave deputies the name of where the 45-year-old worked.

“This is the nature of the job,” said Milligan who has worked in the BSO’s Civil Division unit for 16 years. “We have to just move on to the next,” he said.

His unit serves restraining orders, eviction notices and warrants for people who have not paid child support — mostly deadbeat dads, but some women and caregivers, too.

On Thursday, in an effort dubbed Operation Family Matters, the agency’s Civil Division with deputies from Crime Suppression units focused solely on serving restraining orders and arresting people who were behind in child support — in one case someone owed $32,000 in back pay.

“Judges award child support for a reason and we as a community need to make sure these people are getting what the judge orders,” Broward Sheriff Scott Israel said. “When someone doesn’t pay, the child suffers and the family struggles.”

With nine two-member teams deployed across Broward starting at 6 a.m. and through most of the day, seven people were arrested and 11 were served restraining orders.

Sgt. Tanielu “Dan” Iosia, Milligan’s supervisor, said the first-time operation was a way to add manpower to the unit and weed through a stack of warrants and restraining orders focused on families and children. Teams on Thursday started with 60 arrest warrants and 53 restraining orders.

But nabbing the offenders isn’t always easy, Milligan said.

“All we can do is try,” he said as he drove through West Broward trying to find several different offenders. What he found was typical: The address is old or the person is not home.

Others hide, slip out the back or are protected by someone at the door who says, “Haven’t seen him lately.”

The deputies are searching for people who owe a range of support — anywhere from $50 to thousands.

“As parent you have a responsibility to take care of your child,” Milligan said.

In 2013, the Civil Division served 5,015 restraining orders, up from 4,736 in 2012. In 2013, civil deputies served 316 arrest warrants for failure to pay child support, up from 157 in 2012.

And while Iosia said the team would have loved to complete the stack of warrants, the effort shows the department’s commitment to children and families.

“We want the petitioners to know we are making a diligent effort,” he said. “But sometimes its a dead end.”