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Operation Safe Surrender in York City

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More than 500 people turned themselves in during the two-day Operation Safe Surrender initiative, according to the York County Sheriff's Office.

A total of 525 people showed up to resolve nearly 1,200 outstanding warrants after surrendering on Aug. 24 and 25, Sheriff Richard Keuerleber said.

They came from 15 or 16 different states, he said.

The initiative wasn't an amnesty program, but it let fugitives deal with their outstanding warrants in a neutral, faith-based setting that allowed nearly all of them to avoid prison, the sheriff has said.

Held at Stillmeadow Church of the Nazarene's York City campus, at 350 Chestnut St., Operation Safe Surrender also had a second component — after-care services.

A number of social-services organizations were on hand, organized by Matthew Carey, executive director of LifePath Christian Ministries, formerly the York Rescue Mission.

Those agencies helped people struggling with issues such as access to food, housing, child care, job training 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.

The numbers: A total of 1,197 warrants were served during Operation Safe Surrender — 384 common pleas, 385 summary/traffic, 325 summary/nontraffic, 39 domestic relations, 46 civil and 12 criminal out of magisterial district judge offices and six out-of-county warrants, according to the sheriff's office.

York County collected $18,836.55 for various county agencies including domestic relations, the clerk of courts office, the prothonotary office and magisterial district judge offices.

Keuerleber said that while some defendants paid off their fines and costs in full, many others are now on payment plans.

"There's going to be a lot more collected," he predicted.

Drop in the bucket? If those people stick to their agreed-upon plans, it would make the roughly $19,000 collected so far a drop in the bucket, the sheriff confirmed.

Keuerleber said that Sgt. Shannon Martz, who organized much of the operation along with fellow Sgt. Ashley Donley, will track all the cases resolved through Safe Surrender to see how many defendants stick with their payment plans.

Three people out of the 525 who turned themselves in were taken into police custody, Martz said. One of those people had an active felony warrant, and U.S. marshals were actively searching to arrest him, she said.

The other two people arrested were absconders from York County's drug-treatment program who have extensive criminal records and were considered flight risks, she confirmed.

Hundreds of hours: Three interns in the York County Sheriff's Office spent about 600 hours — about 200 hours each — helping to track down addresses for those with outstanding warrants, so letters could be sent out alerting them to the operation, according to Martz.

She confirmed that she and Donley easily spent 200 hours each organizing the initiative.

"We've been planning this since about December 2016," Martz said, adding that they'd work on it "whenever we had a couple hours here or a couple hours there."

Keuerleber said people with outstanding warrants don't need to wait for another initiative such as Operation Safe Surrender before clearing up their legal issues.

"It's never too late to turn yourself in and turn your life around," he said. "Get back on track. Come in, we'll get you before a judge and you can plead your case."

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

More: People with warrants flock to Operation Safe Surrender

Questions answered: Martz had voluntary surveys distributed to most Safe Surrender defendants, asking them questions about how they heard about the initiative and why they hadn't dealt with their outstanding warrants earlier.

She said 470 people turned in the surveys.

Forty percent said they heard about the operation through a letter sent out by the sheriff's office; 16 percent through social media, 15 percent from family members and the rest through word of mouth, newspapers, radio ads or posters and through church.

A quarter of respondents said they hadn't surrendered earlier because they didn't know about their warrant, while 22 percent said they had no money and 20 percent said they were afraid of going to jail.

Forty-eight percent said they turned themselves in at Operation Safe Surrender to "make things right," while 20 percent said they did so because they felt safe and wanted a second chance.

'Tired of running': Thirteen percent each said they were tired of running and wanted to move on with their lives.

Nearly a third of respondents admitted they weren't sure what to expect at Operation Safe Surrender, but only 6 percent said they thought they would go to jail.

Nearly 30 percent of respondents were in their 30s, according to Martz's surveys, and 26 percent were in their 20s. Seventeen percent were in their 40s; 13 percent were in their 50s and 10 percent were less than 20 years old.

According to Keuerleber, there are 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.

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

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Sgt. Shannon Martz talks about Operation Safe Surrender.

 

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