1,205 fugitives surrender at Philly church

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - September 21, 2008 About 400 offenders lined up to enter True Gospel Tabernacle in South Philadelphia on Saturday, the last day of "Fugitive Safe Surrender." Most were able to surrender, arrange a new court date and go home; some were offered probation instead of jail time.

Authorities picked a church as a surrender point because many consider it less intimidating than a police station or courthouse. Judges and lawyers turned the church into a courthouse for four days, processing paperwork and entering pleas.

Serving warrants for even minor offenses can endanger law enforcement officers, the fugitive and the fugitive's family, officials said in announcing the program earlier this month. "Safe Surrender" eliminates that danger, they said, noting it is not an amnesty program.

When Hattie Fairfax, 62, heard about the program, she offered rides to anyone with an active warrant. Fairfax drove six people to the church over three days, and more went on their own at her suggestion.

"I can't even imagine how I'd feel if every time a cop car came down the street I'd wonder if they were coming for me," Fairfax said.

At the end of the day Saturday, officials said 1,205 fugitives had been processed since the initiative started Wednesday.

Philadelphia is the 11th city to offer the program, which was started three years ago by a federal marshal in Ohio. The city had about outstanding 38,000 misdemeanor warrants before the initiative began.

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