A couple of years ago, a U.S. Marshal from Ohio by the name of Peter Elliot knew that desperate people committed desperate acts and sometimes those acts resulted in disastrous consequences. At the same time, he believed that fugitives wanted for nonviolent crimes deserved a second chance, although they might be fearful of turning themselves over to authorities. It was this line of thinking that led Marshal Elliot to the Fugitive Safe Surrender concept, a strategy that encourages fugitives with outstanding warrants to turn themselves in peaceably. In 2005, the concept became a national program, and since then about 4,000 people have surrendered themselves peacefully in cities such as Phoenix, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Akron, and Nashville.
Inspired primarily by the tragic shooting death of a Cleveland police officer over a parole violation, the Fugitive Safe Surrender program temporarily transforms a neighborhood church into a courthouse to allow for a neutral and more comfortable setting for incoming fugitives. Of the approximately 1.2 million people with outstanding warrants in the United States, about half are wanted for nonviolent crimes, and it is those fugitives that the program aims to attract. Many are wanted simply because of a missed court date.
The fugitives are allowed to enter the churches through metal detectors and to settle their debts to society there, in a controlled atmosphere. More importantly, hundreds of fugitives normally turn themselves in during these Fugitive Safe Surrender events, which means that police officers do not need to spend time, money, and energy (and also risk their lives) to track down those offenders.
I applaud Marshal Elliot for his creative solution to a serious problem and I encourage more police departments and communities across the country to give the Fugitive Safe Surrender program a try. All of the evidence seems to indicate that it’s a very worthwhile and successful program.