Sheriff: Operation Safe Surrender gives 2nd chance to those with warrants

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch
  • Operation Safe Surrender happens Thursday, Aug. 24, and Friday, Aug. 25, at 350 Chestnut St. in York City.
  • York County's sheriff said the vast majority will avoid prison if they show up during the operation.

People with outstanding warrants will have the chance to resolve their issues in a neutral, faith-based setting — and most, if not all, will avoid prison, according to York County Sheriff Richard Keuerleber.

Operation Safe Surrender will be held from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 24, and Friday, Aug. 25, at Stillmeadow Church of the Nazarene's York City campus, 350 Chestnut St.

York County Sheriff Richard Keuerleber announces the dates of Operation Safe Surrender at a news conference at the York County Judicial Center on Wednesday, June 21, 2017.
At far left is chief public defender Bruce Blocher.
(Liz Evans Scolforo photo)

It's a joint initiative offered by the York County Sheriff's Office with help from county common-pleas judges, district judges, prosecutors, public defenders, court administration, social-services organizations and York's faith-based community, the sheriff said.

The sheriff's office held a similar initiative in 2010, called Operation Clean Slate.

About 565 people turned themselves in during the three days of Clean Slate, which resolved about 1,500 warrants and collected roughly $149,000 in fines, according to Keuerleber. Of those 565, only one person went to prison, he said, and that was a federal case.

Extra help available: But Operation Safe Surrender has a new component to it — what the sheriff calls "after-care services."

That means social-services organizations will attend as well, organized by Matthew Carey, executive director of LifePath Christian Ministries (formerly the York Rescue Mission).

Those agencies will assist people struggling with issues in addition to having outstanding warrants, such as access to food, housing, child care and clothing, as well as help with utility bills, Keuerleber said.

"We want to create the culture that it's never too late to start over," he said, adding he believes Operation Safe Surrender will "positively change lives."

Chief deputy prosecutor Dave Sunday said people with warrants are being given a chance to move on with their lives.

Second chances: And the Rev. Kent Vandervort of Stillmeadow Church's York City campus said, "We believe in a God who offers second chances."

The idea of the initiative is that people with warrants are always looking over their shoulders and are afraid to turn themselves in because they could be jailed.

But judges and prosecutors involved in Operation Safe Surrender will do what they can to ensure everyone who walks into the church is able to walk out, officials said. Alternatives sentences are sought as well, the sheriff said.

"We're never just going to arrest our way out of this," he said.

44,000 warrants: According to Keuerleber, there are currently about 44,000 outstanding warrants in York County.

Of those, about 36,000 are from magisterial district judge offices. The rest are common pleas bench warrants, civil warrants and domestic-relations warrants.

Keuerleber said the operation is being held at a church because it's an environment where people feel safe.

Because of that, it's hoped that people will feel comfortable turning themselves in there.

"It's genius," Carey said.

'Favorable consideration': The sheriff said Operation Safe Surrender isn't an amnesty program, although those who take advantage of it will be given "favorable consideration from the court."

Those who intend to take advantage of the initiative should bring at least one form of identification, which could include a valid driver's license, state ID card, birth certificate, Social Security card or Medicare/Medicaid card.

There will even be an "express line" for people who have just summary (meaning noncriminal) warrants. In that line, people will pay $25 for each warrant they have and be given a new reporting date or payment plan or community service.

People with questions can call Sgt. Shannon Martz at 717-699-2701 or Lt. David Godfrey at 717-771-2496.

For more information, check Operation Safe Surrender's Facebook page.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.