The United States Marshals Service created the Fugitive Safe Surrender program in 2005. Used recently for the first time in Trumbull County, the results here reflect the program's success nationwide.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine's office coordinated with county and state officials to turn First United Methodist Church on North Park Avenue in Warren into a makeshift court. Over three days, the court received 62 people who turned themselves in for misdemeanors, three on felonies and 46 who didn't have any warrants but who thought they might.
One fugitive went to jail. The others had their cases settled in less punitive ways. Safe Surrender does not guarantee amnesty.
A simultaneous safe surrender in Columbiana County resulted in 24 fugitives turning themselves in. They included Eric Ryhal, on Columbiana County's Top 10 most wanted list. Ryhal was arrested.
DeWine said the numbers should be much higher the next time because other fugitives will have seen that surrender is an alternative to remaining on the run.
Nationally, more than 13,000 fugitives surrendered in the program's first three years with only 3 percent being arrested. Safe surrenders are usually held in faith-based settings to make turning oneself over to the authorities more comfortable.
The most advantageous reason for allowing fugitives to safely re-enter the community is to add a layer of protection for law enforcement personnel. Many fugitives received traffic citations, then failed to make their court appearances or pay their fines, thus triggering warrants that make them fugitives.
Unfortunately, the next time a police officer tries to pull them over they are more likely to flee knowing their punishments will be compounded by their outstanding warrants. There are also inherent dangers when police departments conduct roundups to nab fugitives, even non-violent ones.
Outstanding warrants make it impossible for fugitives to renew their driver's licenses and more difficult to gain employment. Re-entering the community creates at least some potential that they will take advantage of their clear records to become more productive citizens. To expedite that re-entry, non-law enforcement agencies, such as the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, also participate to immediately process such tasks as driver's license re-instatement.
Another Fugitive Safe Surrender program will be set up in Mahoning County in late September. The next one in Trumbull County should occur in about two years. Hopefully, they become routine every other year after that.