[UPDATE] Fugitive Safe Surrender Program Coming to Tallahassee

By: U.S. Marshals Press Release, Julie Montanaro Email
By: U.S. Marshals Press Release, Julie Montanaro Email

UPDATED 12.13.2010 by Julie Montanaro

A U.S. Marshals Service Spokesman says 163 people turned themselves in at a four-day Safe Surrender program in Tallahassee.

According to Marty West: Between December 8th and December 11th, 163 people turned themselves in at Bethel AME Church. 15 had felony warrants and were arrested. The rest had misdemeanor warrants and were released after being adjudicated, fined or assigned a new court date.

West says marshals were able to clear 168 misdemeanor warrants and 25 felony warrants. Some folks had multiple warrants, he pointed out.

West says 40 people also came to surrender only to find that there weren't any warrants out for their arrest.
UPDATED 12.7.2010 by Julie Montanaro

There are two courtrooms and lots of chairs ready and waiting at Bethel AME Church.

U.S. Marshals, as well as representatives from the public defender's office, the state attorney's office, the clerk's office and many more spent the day transforming offices and meeting rooms at the church into a one stop shop for folks who want to turn themselves in to face outstanding warrants.

There will be a metal detector and armed deputies at the door.

Marty West with the U.S. Marshals Office says folks with simple misdemeanor warrants could conceivably be out the door within an hour, while people with multiple warrants will take longer.

West says he expects the lines to get longer as the week goes by, as those who go through the process report their experiences to friends and associates.

West says phones at both the chuch and the Marshals Service have been ringing off the hook this week with people wanting more information.

The Marshal's safe surrender program will run Wednesday through Saturday, from 9am to 4pm at Bethel AME Church, 501 W. Orange Avenue in Tallahassee.
UPDATED 11.16.2010 5:45pm by Julie Montanaro

Men and women who are considered "wanted" will have a chance to turn themselves in at a Tallahassee church and in most cases go home the same day.

That safe surrender program is being offered in Florida for the first time, but has drawn tens of thousands of fugitives nationwide.

U.S. Marshals usually come knocking with guns in hand and plenty of backup. In a few weeks, they'll be offering fugitives a much more dignified option.

It's not for violent criminals, but for the estimated 30-thousand people in Leon, Wakulla and Gadsden Counties who have warrants out for their arrest on non-violent felonies and misdemeanors.

"In a city the size of Tallahassee, we're hoping for anywhere from 500 to one thousand self surrenders," said Marty West, a supervisory inspector with the U.S. Marshal Service.

Since the safe surrender program was started five yeas ago, more than 27-thousand people have turned themselves in, the most ever in Detroit with more than 6500 surrenders, the most recent in Boston drew just 236. TPD Officer Derek Friend went to observe one in Cleveland earlier this fall.

"That first day they had over 800 people surrender and it got busier from there," Friend said.

The scene of this safe surrender will be Tallahassee's Bethel AME. It'll be outfitted with metal detectors and uniformed bailiffs but Marshals say 97% of those who walk in can expect to walk out after paying a fine, receiving probation or scheduling a new court date.

"Because they took it upon themselves to come down and clear their warrants up, the judge will be able to hear the case and if they can, receive a more favorable sentence," West said.

The safe surrender program will be offered December 8th through the 11th. Those with violent felony warrants are welcome to surrender too, but Marshals say they can expect to go to jail, not to go home.

Gadsden County offered a similar surrender program last October and 80 people wound up turning themselves in on everything from traffic violations to drug charges.

Tallahassee, FL - Individuals wanted for non-violent misdemeanor crimes in Leon, Gadsden, and Wakulla Counties will soon have the chance to turn themselves in at a local church, where they may receive favorable consideration on their open warrants.

Individuals who are hiding from the law pose a risk to themselves, the communities in which they hide, and the law enforcement officers who pursue them. A Congressionally-authorized United States Marshals Service initiative known as Fugitive Safe Surrender will take place Wednesday, December 8th, through Saturday, December 11th, at the Bethel AME Church, located at 501 West Orange Avenue in Tallahassee, Florida. There are no religious requirements and a secular site will also be available. Public defenders will be available to surrenderees.

There are currently over 20,000 open warrants in Leon County, and over 10,000 warrants in Gadsden and Wakulla Counties, with many of them for non-violent offenses. Living with an open warrant often leads to driver’s license suspension or renewal complications, unemployment, or housing problems and interrupts the ability to be a productive citizen. The Fugitive Safe Surrender program encourages wanted individuals to turn themselves in, address their warrant, and move forward with their lives.

More than 25,500 fugitives have surrendered to authorities at 20 Fugitive Safe Surrender sites in 18 states since the program began five years ago in Cleveland, Ohio. Each site has drawn hundreds – and in many cases thousands – of men and women who chose to take the first step toward a fresh start. This will be the first time the program is available in Florida.

As many as 97% of the individuals who surrendered for non-violent offenses at those sites went home the same day after receiving probation, paying a fine, or receiving a new court date. Though the program is geared toward non-violent misdemeanor offenses committed in Leon, Gadsden, and Wakulla Counties, people with warrants for more serious criminal offenses can also avail themselves of Fugitive Safe Surrender but may not have the opportunity for same-day resolution of their outstanding criminal matters.

The FSS program creates a partnership between the clergy, the courts, and social services agencies. That partnership is supported by local and Federal law enforcement. The Tallahassee partnership includes the U.S. Marshals Service; Bethel AME Church; Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, Florida’s Second Judicial Circuit, the Public Defender’s Office and State Attorney’s Office of the Second Judicial Circuit, Leon, Gadsden, and Wakulla County Probation, Florida Department of Corrections Probation Office, Clerk of the Court for Leon, Gadsden, and Wakulla Counties, Leon County, City of Tallahassee, Leon County Sheriff’s Office, Gadsden County Sheriff’s Office, Wakulla County Sheriff’s Office, Tallahassee Police Department, Deliverance Temple Ministries, Wakulla Springs Baptist Church, Wildwood Baptist Church, and several local service organizations.

For more information please call the information line at 850-942-9670.

The U.S. Marshals and other law enforcement agencies pursue tens of thousands of fugitives each year, with every arrest containing the potential for violence. Fugitives don’t just put themselves and their pursuers at risk – they endanger their families and communities as well. The Fugitive Safe Surrender program reduces this risk by allowing individuals to surrender safely at a neutral location to receive favorable consideration by the court.

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