By Maddy Vitale
On Friday, an event will take place that could change people’s lives for the better. And it is happening in Cape May Court House.
“Safe Surrender” will be held from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Lighthouse Church located at 1248 Route 9 South. It is part of the Stop Running and Start Living Again campaign and allows those with outstanding warrants to turn themselves in with no threat of arrest, officials said.
This is the first year the program, which encompasses cases from Cape and Atlantic counties, will be held in Cape May County. Last year, it was in Pleasantville in Atlantic County.
The “Safe Surrender” program gives people, primarily with disorderly persons and other non-violent offenses, the opportunity to work with municipal and Superior Court judges and staff to resolve outstanding warrants, officials said.
Middle Township Police Chief Chris Leusner, who is also the vice president of the New Jersey State Chiefs of Police Association, called the program beneficial to the community.
“I think it provides a comfort level for people to come in and square away outstanding warrants. I think that it benefits everyone,” Leusner noted. “Someone can have peace of mind and hopefully a higher confidence level and get their life back on track. They won’t have to worry about getting arrested on their way to work over a warrant.”
Leusner said when he was approached by representatives with the Atlantic/Cape May counties court district about holding “Safe Surrender” in Cape May County he was all for it.
“I thought it was a fabulous idea,” he said. “It reduces people in the criminal justice system. If someone has a warrant, they can come in and we will deal with it. We picked a church where people can feel comfortable. We just want to make this program as successful as possible.”
Leusner said in the majority of cases he can recall through the years of “Safe Surrender” the warrants have been for non-violent offenses and a significant portion of them have been Municipal Court warrants.
While the program benefits those with outstanding municipal warrants, it doesn’t apply for defendants in Superior Court, which handles more serious criminal cases. Judges will be available from Lower Township, Middle Township, Wildwood, West Wildwood, and Woodbine.
The event will allow most warrants out of Atlantic and Cape May counties to be rectified. Proof of attendance will be issued to all people who surrender, officials said.
During the program Friday, there will be local advocate groups on site to assist with issues such as housing and substance abuse. There will also be an aide for veterans and legal assistance.
While there are thousands of open warrants going back years in Cape May County, Leusner said “Safe Surrender” is the best way to clear some of them out.
“I have been told people are coming in from out of state to try to get things squared away. I think that is terrific,” he said. “People are hearing about the program.”
Making it known to people that they have nothing to fear by coming in is the main focus of police.
“Fear of the unknown may be preventing some people from resolving things,” Leusner said.
The hope is that the program will resolve outstanding warrants for a lot of people, he said.