AKRON, Ohio (AP) — A program that helps people with outstanding warrants get their troubles behind them attracted hundreds of people, including one woman with a dozen open traffic cases.
More than 1,500 people came forward over four days this past week in Akron at the fifth Fugitive Safe Surrender program held in Ohio since 2011.
Robert Davis, the coordinator of the program from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, said the program was really designed for the safety of law enforcement officers and to allow people to take care of the issues without being brought into custody.
“It could be the wrong day for officers to make that traffic stop,” he said. “The stop could happen when someone’s mom is sick, the day someone has to get to a child or a job and they don’t want to go to jail that day. Then it’s an issue of pursuit and resisting arrest. It’s not a forgiveness program, but it’s a start. It’s the first step toward a second chance.”
The program doesn’t allow people with warrants to forego their obligations but instead helps them deal with whatever they’re facing.
“You can’t get a job if you have a warrant, you can’t get an apartment, you can’t live above the radar,” he said.
Participants were directed to either representatives of municipal court, common pleas court, child support, bureau of motor vehicles, domestic relations or adult probation. Judges along with prosecutors and defense lawyers then worked to resolve the cases.
Most of the offenders seeking help were there for traffic-related cases and license suspensions. Others owed child support or were there for probation violations.
Overall, 1,548 people cleared a total of 3,669 warrants.
Most of those who came forward were released on the same day after their cases were heard and processed, the attorney general’s office said.
“We have seen 80 percent of the cases have to do with suspended licenses and the rest are nonviolent felonies, mostly child support cases and some probation violations,” said Joe Kodish, head of the public defender’s program. “We meet with the prosecutor and try to come to some agreement with the judge. The process takes a few hours, but ordinarily could take days.”
Eugene Marsh said he had a warrant after failing to appear in court for driving on a suspended license.
“My license has been suspended since 1992 because I was behind on my child support payments,” he said. “The police arrested me on my birthday. I was supposed to start a new job the very next day. I spent four days in jail — when I got out, the job was gone.”
He turned himself in on Friday because he said he was tired of looking over his shoulder.
“I had to work to pay child support and I needed to drive to get to the job, but I decided I had to do the right thing and to stop blaming everybody else. I’m responsible.”
Dan Flannery, a professor at Case Western Reserve, who gathers statistics for the safe surrender program, said they have been held in more than 40 cities nationwide.