The jig is up. Turn yourself in or prepare to be busted.
That's the message that the U.S. Marshals Service and local law-enforcement officials sent yesterday to thousands of nonviolent offenders with outstanding warrants in Delaware County.
Starting tomorrow morning, fugitives can voluntarily surrender at White Rock Christian Church, in Chester, where county judges will be on hand to process a backlog of cases dating from the 1980s.
Fugitives who turn themselves in during the four-day program will get "favorable consideration" in their cases, and most will be adjudicated on the spot and allowed to leave the same day, said District Attorney G. Michael Green.
If you don't show up, expect a knock on your door in the near future. The county sheriff is planning to launch a large-scale sweep to round up people who have failed to show up in court on charges such as retail theft, drug possession and driving under the influence.
"For those who are arrested during that sweep, there will be no favorable consideration offered by the courts," Green said yesterday.
The Fugitive Safe Surrender program, which began in Cleveland in 2005, uses a carrot-and-stick technique that has drawn almost 21,000 offenders to safe-surrender locations in 15 cities. In Philadelphia last September, about 1,250 fugitives turned themselves in.
The program is aimed at nonviolent offenders, but those wanted for more serious felonies can also surrender.
"It's a terrific opportunity for all the residents of Delaware County to use this resource, turn themselves in safely, get the warrants that they have cleared up, be home the same day, and then carry on with their lives," said acting U.S. Marshal John Patrignani.
Judges will be able to sentence offenders on site or set new court dates.