Fugitive Safe Surrender program a success 

The hope was to get some of the more than 25,000 active warrants off the street before those individuals could harm themselves or others. And law enforcement officials in Marion County are hoping that the four-day Fugitive Safe Surrender program did just that.

“This was a win-win-win for everybody,” said Mark Robinett, a deputy U.S. marshal in Indianapolis.

The goal of the program was to allow individuals with minor, non-violent felony and misdemeanor warrants to voluntarily turn themselves in and to have their cases quickly handled by local judges. And for four days ending on April 28, officials set up shop in Messiah Missionary Baptist Church in East 38th Street.

A total of 531 individuals turned themselves in and 448 cases were referred to Marion County Superior Court. A total of 43 people were arrested.

“It’s exhausting walking around with a warrant hanging over you,” said Jennifer Smith, chief administrator of special projects for the Marion County Justice Agency. People with outstanding warrants for even minor crimes can’t find legitimate work, obtain a driver’s license and, in many cases, can’t find housing.

“In many cases you could take care of the warrant without going to jail,” she said. “There were people doing cartwheels in the parking lot.”

U.S. Marshall Peter Elliott in the Cleveland office started the program several years ago after a law enforcement officer was killed when he confronted someone with a minor warrant. The assailant was wanted for driving with a suspended license but as a result of killing the officer was charged with murder.

“People are actually running from police on minor warrants” and they are “endangering law enforcement officers, themselves and others,” Smith said.

“Those who accepted responsibility for their actions benefited by [having] their cases adjudicated in a safe, relaxed environment,” said U.S. Marshal Peter Swaim of the Indianapolis office.

The program first ran in Cleveland in August 2005. Congress authorized funds for the program in July 2006 and it ran again in Phoenix last November. Some 18 other cities around the country are looking to use the program, Robinett said.

And it’s cost-effective.

Some $30,000 in federal funds were used, mostly spent on the hardware and software that was set up at the church for processing the individuals, and for other support. Most of the local advertising was done for free, Robinett said.

“At 31 percent, we had the highest percentage of people who surrendered on felony charges,” he said. Cleveland and Phoenix averaged 25 to 27 percent.

“Fugitive Safe Surrender is truly a great example of what we can do when public safety agencies at all levels work together toward a common goal,” Marion County Superior Court Judge Gerald Zore said in a prepared statement.

Robinett said one local mom was glad the program was there for her 20-year-old son.

“She appeared relieved after the court hearing held at the church,” said Robinett, adding that her son did not have to go to jail. “As she was leaving she asked a volunteer how the agency was funding the program. The mother reached in her purse and pulled out a $10 bill, saying that was all she had, but wanted to give it back to the U.S. marshals so they could continue the program.”

He said neither the marshals’ service nor the church accepted the money.

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