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Police & Fire

Surrender program gives thousands of N.J. fugitives second chance

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

It wasn’t a record-breaker, but the nearly 4,000 people wanted for various offenses throughout New Jersey who voluntarily turned themselves in last week helped save the state lots of money and prevented any potential harm to themselves, loved ones or police and other public servants.

They also represented the fourth-highest total ever in the U.S.

Twenty people in all were arrested on the spot for a variety of violent crimes, or on extradition requests for warrants from other states, organizers said.

In just three “Fugitive Safe Surrender” events sponsored by the state Parole Board since 2008, more than 10,000 people wanted for anything from a parking ticket to aggravated assault have come peacefully to law enforcement authorities to repay their debts.

That‘s “ten thousand people who are no longer living in fear, ten thousand people who are extremely grateful, ten thousand people who are getting a second chance,” New Jersey Attorney General Paula T. Dow said this afternoon. “We are more than thrilled with the success of this life-altering program.”

Last year, 4,103 turned themselves in at a Newark location. In 2008, 2,245 showed up in Camden.

The record: Cleveland, with 7,431 in September, followed by Detroit, with 6,500 in June 2008. Given their respective sizes, to even be in the Top 5 is an accomplishment.

In fact, more people turned themselves in at this year’s event than all of those combined in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Wilmington, Delaware, said Neal Buccino of the New Jersey State Parole Board.

A Baptist church in Somerset was the most recent headquarters for the four-day initiative, which organizers said drew fugitives from across the state.

“ ‘Fugitive Safe Surrender’ has exceeded its goals in New Jersey,” said state Parole Board Chairman James T. Plousis, a former US Marshal who knows a thing or two about tracking and capturing fugitives.

“In a very significant way, what we have achieved continues to remove significant dangers for law enforcement and for the individuals who took the important step of turning themselves in to justice and beginning to live up to their obligations,” Plousis said.

Cold facts: Those who surrendered saved taxpayers roughly $420 each in jail and police enforcement costs, at a time when every dime counts.

Add to that the as-yet untotaled amount of fines, court fees and driver’s license restoration
fees collected — as well as the immeasurable gain from those now “free to stop hiding from the law and begin contributing to their families and society,” Buccino said.

However, as several officials noted and Buccino summed up: “Each person who surrenders also removes the threat of potential to danger to law enforcement, the individual’s community and family, and the individual him- or herself.”.

Over the past five years, nearly 30 police officers nationwide have been killed confronting wanted fugitives, many of whom were wanted for minor, non-felony offenses, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.

Of this year’s turnout, more than 70 had at least one warrant from Municipal Court, including  disorderly persons offenses, municipal ordinance violations or traffic violations, Buccino said.

At the same time, 15 percent had at least one warrant issued by a Superior (state) Court judge involving either criminal or Family Court matters.

More than 250 volunteers helped pull off the major undertaking without so much as a bad word exchanged between anyone. According to Lori Scott-Pickens of Rutgers University, who coordinated the recruiting, training and supervision of the volunteers, seven different languages were spoken.

The number of agencies involved was staggering: Besides the Parole Board, the Attorney General’s Office, the U.S. Marshals Service and Rutgers, contributions were made by the prosecutors’ offices in Middlesex, Somerset, Mercer and Monmouth counties, as well as by several community and religious groups — most prominently, First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens, whose pastor is the well-known Rev. Dr. DeForest B. Soaries Jr.

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