It’s not a Get Out of Jail Free card, but the safe-surrender days sponsored by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine offer people who have had a scrape with the law a chance to restore order to their lives.
Working with local courts and police departments, as well as two host churches, the attorney general’s office gave people with outstanding warrants a three-day opportunity to turn themselves in Trumbull and Columbiana counties. A total of 135 people seized the moment.
The idea for safe-surrender days grew out of a tragedy in which a police officer died when the routine traffic stop of someone who had an outstanding warrant turned bad.
Even a low-level warrant can carry a high-level of danger when fear, anger and frustration reach a peak under unfavorable circumstances. Traffic stops can escalate into physical confrontations, high-speed chases and standoffs.
Last Thursday, Friday and Saturday people who had — or thought they had — outstanding warrants for non-violent misdemeanors and low-level felonies could walk into First United Methodist Church of Warren or Lisbon Church of the Nazarene and know that they would be treated with respect and given an opportunity to get on with their lives. These new lives would not involve constantly looking over their shoulders.
On hand throughout were local judges, court staff, probation officers, local police, staff from the attorney general’s office and representatives of the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles, which allowed everyone to work together toward a single goal.
Churches are the preferred venue because they offer a sense of safety and impartiality.
In almost all cases, judges can work with whoever walks in to allow them to walk out free men and women — although they may still have fines or community service to perform to complete the process. Two people facing more serious charges ended the day in custody, but even they have the peace of mind of knowing that they’ll eventually be free and clear.
In May, we decried the fact that Youngstown court officials had been unable to reach an agreement to conduct a safe-surrender day in the city. We’re happy to see that everyone here seems to be on board now for an event that will most likely be held in late September at a church in proximity to downtown.
While clearing a few hundred warrants out of the thousands that are outstanding may not seem significant, it is.
For one thing, no one knows which outstanding warrant may be the spark that ignites a tragic event. For another, every warrant that can be cleared is a big deal for the person involved. One young man in Trumbull County said he could now get on with his life — free to apply for work without worrying about what might turn up in a background check and free to drive past a police car on the side of the road without worrying if he’s going to spend that night in jail.
That’s a really big deal — and a good deal all around.