Fugitive Safe Surrender in Washington, D.C.

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This Television Program is available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/video/?p=18

[Video Begins]

Leonard Sipes: Hi and Welcome to D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host Len Sipes. In November of 2007, over 530 individuals voluntarily surrendered to the Bible Way Church in Northwest Washington, D.C. These individuals had a variety of warrants ranging from criminal to some traffic warrants. It’s an extraordinarily interesting concept called Fugitive Safe Surrender and to talk about the program we have two principles with us today. We have Paul Quander, the Director of my agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and we have Nancy Ware, the Director of the D.C. Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. Paul and Nancy, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Paul Quander and Nancy Ware: Thanks for having us.

Leonard Sipes: Nancy, the first question will go to you. Now from what I understand this is a National Program of the U.S. Marshal Service and the U.S. Marshal in Washington, D.C., Steve Convoy, brought this concept to you as the Director of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, correct?

Nancy Ware: That’s correct. Steve came to us probably two years ago to present the concept and how it would run in Cleveland, Ohio which was the first site that actually instituted Fugitive Safe Surrender, so that was their experimental site and he presented it to the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council which is a group of all the law enforcement and public safety agencies in Washington and everyone was very enthusiastic about it; very excited about the opportunity that would be made available to D.C. folks who had outstanding warrants and wanted to turn themselves in peacefully in faith institution. So, at that point, we began to talk more about what it would entail to bring all of the principles together, all the various agencies, all the moving parts together and institute this initiative in D.C. and in the interim we actually had opportunities to send D.C. criminal justice and public safety agency representatives to other sites that were also instituting Fugitive Safe Surrender in their sites.

Leonard Sipes: Right, and I was one of those people and I went to the Indianapolis Fugitive Safe Surrender site and saw first hand how it worked. Paul Quander, this was an extraordinarily difficult undertaking from the stand point of a wide variety of criminal justice agencies. We’re talking about the U.S. Attorneys Office, we’re talking about D.C. Corrections, and we’re talking about Pretrial Services. The agencies goes on and on- The United States Marshal Service, the Metropolitan Police Department. Those of us in the criminal justice system know that it’s very difficult to bring all those agencies, put them all in one spot, and to agree on anything and you pretty much lead this organizing effort.

Paul Quander: It was a great undertaking, but the one thing that we had going for us was a common purpose. All of the principles at that initial meeting agree that we would undertake this and we had the infrastructure already in place through the leadership of Nancy Ware and the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, so it’s a natural fit for us. It was difficult at times, but well worth the effort. You mentioned some of the agencies but on a total, there were 13 different agencies, both local and federal that came together to make this work and what we essentially had to do was to take everything that is in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia and move it to Bible Way Church and not only are you talking about people but you’re talking about the infrastructure. You’re talking about the computers, you’re talking about the telephone network, you’re talking about all the things that make Superior Court work from interpreters to all those special individuals that provide that service, so that an individual who turns himself in will get the benefit of coming in, getting favorable consideration, getting that warrant resolved, and moving on and having a second chance at life. So, it’s well worth it. Everyone saw the potential, the good that this could do, so it was a labor of love, but it was a labor.

Leonard Sipes: And talk a little bit about the concept of the Fugitive Safe Surrender. They are nonviolent individuals with nonviolent histories and we do a media campaign and we invite them to voluntarily come in and get favorable consideration.

Paul Quander: Right, there are a lot of individuals in the District of Columbia and in other communities across the country that has nonviolent warrants. Some for traffic offenses, some misdemeanor offenses, some felony offenses, a lot of drug offenses; these are nonviolent offenders and they have warrants that are outstanding. Either because of probation violations, parole violations, they have failed to appear in court, there are some pretrial matters that they failed to resolve and they walked away from the system and these individuals are out there and they’re living on the margins and what we decided to do was, we needed to bring them in. We need to get them out of the shadows and bring them in so that they can get the services and get on with their lives. So, it was a tremendous undertaking but the reward was going to be significant for our community as a whole. So, that’s why it took planning. It took the cooperation of every agency, not on the principle but the individuals that actually do the heavy lifting and organizations, to sit down, to plan it out, all of the details to coordinate all of the services to make sure the things ran smoothly because if they don’t run smoothly, you don’t have a successful program and we were able to pull all those pieces together and get everybody to work together. There were endless meetings, but those are the type of meetings that you don’t mind having because you see the proof at the end of the day and we were able to do that and so it turned out to be a marvelous event for everyone that was there.

Leonard Sipes: I agree. Nancy Ware, a lot of the offenders, let’s talk about them coming in. You know this is an interesting concept. I come from a law enforcement background years ago. I would go out with a squad of six or seven other police officers. We’d knock on doors. We’d have a hand full of warrants. If we apprehended six people that night, that was an extraordinary big night for us. Ordinarily we’d get one or two from an entire night’s worth of work, maybe three. In this case, we got 530. One of the offenders who came in to voluntarily surrender walked about 20 miles in suburban Maryland to downtown D.C. to give himself up. His mother asked him to do it on her birthday. We had another person, 1st in line on the first day, who just went out and did lots of television broadcasts basically saying, hallelujah, this is a wonderful thing. We have mothers bringing their sons in. We had one offender who was in prison, I think, for 20 years who brought his father in on a drug warrant and all of these people had what I considered to be an emotional reaction and were so pleased with the idea of putting this warrant behind them, having a new court date. Talk to me about that process.

Nancy Ware: Well that’s part of what made it so exciting. It was something to behold watching people come in the door and every person had a story on their face. You had an opportunity as an agency, as a member of the District of Columbia public service agency to be able to offer folks, not just a second chance, but also a second chance with dignity so that they didn’t have to go through the scenario that you described where someone was coming to their door and knocking on their door, and taking them away potentially in handcuffs in front of their children or in some cases, having to kick down their door and taking away them in front of their family. This offered them a lot of support at our Fugitive Safe Surrender initiative. We had 40 volunteers from Bible Way Church, from Howard University, from our staff throughout our agencies, everyone treated every single individual with the utmost respect and that was something that really left you feeling like this was an effort that was well worth it as Paul said. It was a labor of love and people came in, they were fed, they were provided a safe relaxed environment, family members could wait for their loved ones who had to go to court, they could actually go into the court rooms with their family members. Again, everyone was treated with respect. The volunteers were wonderful, they talked to the families, they made sure that the families were kept abreast of what was going on in the process, so it was really a wonderful opportunity to show our residents in D.C. that we do care about them and we do want them to succeed and many people were ready to take advantage of that.

Leonard Sipes: And we also offered drug treatment services and employment services. It was across the board. Paul, I can’t think of any downfalls to Fugitive Safe Surrender the way that we did it with Washington, D.C. It seems to be continuous pluses across the board. From the stand point of protecting police officers. So many police officers are injured or killed in the process of serving the very kind of warrants where these people voluntarily came in to getting them reintegrated in society, instead of being on the outside putting them into regular society. I don’t see any minuses with this.

Paul Quander: There was no minus whatsoever. That’s why when the principles got together when Marshall Convoy brought this to us, we all agreed that it was a good thing. Now with stating that, how are we going to make it happen. How are we going to make it work and there are many pitfalls from the idea until reality so that’s where we had to come together. That’s where we had to work because there are the benefits. You mentioned that individuals voluntarily turned themselves in which is absolutely phenomenal. You don’t have to go out, you don’t have to chase, you don’t have to run, and no one is hurt in the process. People come in because they want to come in. They want to come in because their coming to a church, they’re coming to a safe environment, they’re coming into a place that has always provided sanctuary. It’s the place where they feel comfortable, that they can trust what is being said is really going to happen and then from that first day when people actually came in and they had their cases resolved. When they actually saw that there were real judges there, there were prosecutors there, there were defense attorneys that were there that could answer their questions and not only that as Nancy indicated, there were social services there. So if an individual had a drug problem, they were actually signed up right there on the spot to go into APRA’s program and APRA of course is the drug treatment and prevention program for the District of Columbia. The Department of Employment Services was there so if a person was looking for a job, they had referrals that were right there. They had the big van out front of the church. So, you had all these social services that were there and everything is designed to make the person whole again. So, we’ve moved from a very contentious, a very dangerous situation involving a confrontation on a lonely street between a police officer and an individual who has a warrant who may do anything when they panic and you remove that completely when that person comes in and gets that matter resolved and you don’t have that confrontation then. So the police officer wins. The individual in the community that had that warrant wins. The surrounding neighbors win. That individual’s family wins. The criminal justice system as a whole wins. It’s a win win proposition.

Leonard Sipes: Nancy, the importance of Bible Way, it’s a major church in Northwest Washington, D.C. Apostle James Silver is the pastor, and we are very grateful to him, but that was the important feature was it not? The individuals turning themselves into a well-known church and a faith based institution. That was the comfort level that they needed to do this, correct?

Nancy Ware: Right. Bible Way is an icon in D.C. It’s a historical institution, faith institution in Washington. Many people at Bible Way are very committed to this kind of activity to try to be sure to provide outreach to the community to support folks who may have had mishaps in their lives or downtrodden and have had problems and so this was a natural setting. In addition, Bible Way had the facility that we needed. The footage in the church was perfect for what we’re trying to do and it had taken us quite a while to find just the right setting where we had plenty of room, plenty of space because as Paul said, we were bringing court rooms into the church facility.

Leonard Sipes: Right and that was really unusual. Nancy, you’ve got the final word on the first segment. Nancy and Paul thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, watch us on the next segment where we continue our discussion of Fugitive Safe Surrender in Washington, D.C. What you’re going to see now is some television footage, some television coverage of the Safe Surrender Program. After the footage, we’ll be right back. Stay with us.

Karen Gray Houston: These people are fugitives. At the doors to Bible Way Temple open today at least 25 of them lined up. It’s a U.S. Marshals service initiative to get nonviolent offenders to surrender. That’s why Willie Jones turned himself in.

Willie Jones: Because I had a warrant and I was tired of running and I know this is a good program and the right thing to do.

Karen Gray Houston: Jones was wanted for selling drugs, heroine and ignored a date in court.

Willie Jones: I just didn’t feel comfortable walking in the court house.

Karen Gray Houston: You thought they’d put you in jail.

Willie Jones: Yes ma’am.

Karen Gray Houston: The Fugitive Safe Surrender program is set up so fugitives avoid handcuffs and to keep police from knocking on their door in the middle of the night.

Paul Quander: No chasing, no danger to the public, no danger to the law enforcement officers and no danger to the citizens.

Karen Gray Houston: Inside the church, various local and federal agencies are available to help. Public Defenders so fugitives can consult a lawyer, drug treatment if needed, even make-shift court rooms so judges can hear a guilty plea or set a court date. Authorities wanted to signal offenders that this will be a safe process, relatively painless, and convenient so what better place to do it than a church? James Silver is pastor here at Bible Way.

James Silver: What I would tell anyone out there is do the right thing. Get it over with and in view of the fact that the judge will show favorable consideration.

Karen Gray Houston: There are no promises of absolute amnesty, but Willie Jones has a different reason for surrendering now.

Willie Jones: My parents are old. They need me.

Karen Gray Houston: His sister says Willie’s been in and out of trouble and wants to turn his life around.

Willie Jones’ Sister: He’s ready. He said he’s ready to go flip burgers at McDonalds. So, he’s ready.

Karen Gray Houston: Now he has the support from loved ones and help from the community to get a second chance. Karen Gray Houston, Fox 5 News.

News Desk: Now a total of 75 people surrendered today and only 1 was arrested. The others were either sent home with a new court date or they had their cases thrown out all together.

Allison Starling: Next on ABC 7 news at 5, wanted fugitives turn up at a local church to surrender.

Leon Harris: Find out why they all showed up to turn themselves in. That’s next on ABC 7 news at 5. Don’t go away.

Allison Starling: So far 140 D.C. fugitives have turned themselves in to the U.S. Marshals.

Leon Harris: And it’s all because of the Safe Surrender Program. It’s a program that runs through Saturday at Bible Way Church. Our D.C. Bureau Chief, Sam Ford tells us tonight as in other cities where this program has been offered, most got to go home.

Sam Ford: His sister Tammy at his side, Willie Jones who skipped out on sentencing a year ago for selling Heroine was the first to turn himself in today.

Willie Jones: It’s no way to live and since I walked in this morning, my life has gotten real better.

Sam Ford: He’s one of dozens of fugitives tired of looking over their shoulders for the police who turned themselves in at Bible Way Church on the Safe Surrender Program. More than 100 volunteers, plus marshals, parole officers, and judges process fugitives with outstanding warrants from traffic offenses on up.

Rufus King: This is not an amnesty program where the case doesn’t go away automatically just because you come in but you have a warrant, you’ve been running, now is the time you can stop running.

Leonard Sipes: Welcome back to D.C. Public Safety, I continue to be your host Len Sipes. Back on our set is Paul Quander and the Director of the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and we have Cliff Keenan, the Deputy Director of Pretrial Services in Washington, D.C. Paul, Cliff, welcome back to D.C. Public Safety. Cliff, the first question is going to go to you because you greeted virtually everybody who walked in through that door. You were right at the front part of that process. It’s an amazing and technical process. Tell me a little bit about the different people coming in. Were they worried, were they scared, were they hopeful? Did you get any sense of emotion as people walked in through that door?

Cliff Keenan: Len, actually it was not just my staff with Pretrial Services Agency but we also have to very much thank the pastor for getting so many of his volunteers from his church and other churches to actually greet the people who were coming to turn themselves in.

Leonard Sipes: And that was the initial greeting. The greeting was from the volunteers from the church.

Cliff Keenan: Correct, and they took the time to explain if persons didn’t have a good understand about what was going to happen. They explained what the process was going to be about and then after the initial greeting and the persons were escorted down to our check in station, that’s where our staff then took over in terms of further explaining what was to be expected. We did a very methodical check in order to make sure that persons who came in with family members or friends, or with children because we also had a childcare facility set up for those persons who had children.

Leonard Sipes: And I saw persons who were pushing basinets into the church and in some cases the mother bringing in 2 kids at one time. I mean she had to be fairly secure with her situation to bring her kids in so bringing your kids in to surrender on a criminal warrant, that’s an interesting observation isn’t it?

Cliff Keenan: Very much so and I think for the most part, everybody who is involved, be it the volunteers or the staff from the various agencies, took the time to really explain the process and the people would be at least as comfortable as possible when they were going to be receiving favorable consideration, was the hallmark of this. No promises could be made to anybody but they did I think understand from the very beginning, from the time that the volunteers greeted them, that people were looking out for their best interests as much as possible.

Leonard Sipes: Paul, what happened is they went to a defense attorney that was provided for free so they could discuss their legal options before going in to see the judges from the Superior Court to make a disposition on their case or the U.S. Parole Commission.

Paul Quander: That’s right. Even before they got to the opportunity to speak with the defense attorney, members of the staff from the Pretrial Services Agency actually did a thorough review of their outstanding warrants to make sure that we had all of the warrants. We wanted to make sure that we took care of everything that was there on the table. Once that was done and we identified any outstanding matters, then the individuals were escorted to the waiting area by church volunteers. Again, very friendly, very nonthreatening atmosphere, where they were greeted by other volunteers. They sat, there were TVs that were available, there were snacks that were available, then they were paired with an attorney and they talked about the individual cases. There were traffic attorneys who specialized in traffic matters; there were representatives from the Public Defenders Service that spoke with everyone else that had a non traffic matter. And so, after they spoke, they sat down and waited until it was time to go back to the court, but we didn’t have that as just empty time because there we had members from APRA the drug treatment program that were there to do assessments and to sign people up. So, if they needed drug treatment, if they wanted drug treatment, they could actually decide that right there on spot. We also had Unity Health fair that was there, Unity Health Services that was providing all sorts of health information, health related information to individuals. So, we tried to have an environment which provided social services as well as the criminal justice issue so that when the person walked out of the door, we wanted to make sure that person left in a much better position than when he or she came in.

Leonard Sipes: And most of them walked out of the door with these huge smiles on their faces. I mean, media interviewed them as they walked out the door, Cliff and in the Afro American in D.C. there was a photo of as mother and daughter just hugging each other and it was a very emotional time. We let people bring the family members in. We talked about kids in daycare. Mothers brought their sons down saying I’m sick and tired of worrying about the police knocking on my door at 3:00 in the morning. You’re going to Fugitive Safe Surrender and you’re going to surrender, so you saw the family members come in correct?

Cliff Keenan: Absolutely and as I said, I think everybody involved in the process was so supportive and when you also had the family member or the close friend who is accompanying the individual, it clearly was almost overwhelming to the point where the emotions took over and they realized that they had no choice but to take care of the matters that brought them there that day.

Leonard Sipes: I do want to talk a little bit about the technical parts of it because one of the reasons why I wanted you on this show is that you were so intimately involved in the entire process from a technical point of view. I saw your emails on a day to day basis, changing the script, changing the flow, negotiating with other partners in the criminal justice system. I mean Paul lead the charge. It was the U.S. Marshall Service and Paul leading the charge though organizing. You were in charge of the intimate details as to how it would work. Tell me a little bit about that.

Cliff Keenan: Well I think the most important thing was giving every agency the assurance and the confidence that things were going to be done right. There were a lot of questions as Paul just alluded to as to whether or not somebody coming in that every warrant would be identified and handled. So, we wanted to insure that in working with the U.S. Attorneys Office and working with the Office of the Attorney General, and working with Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, and working with the judges and working with the Parole Commission, that we would do as thorough a job as one could imagine in terms of identifying those warrants.

Leonard Sipes: And you basically did it without a glitch. Can you imagine, this is sort of like an emergency operation center in the event of a hurricane. That’s basically what we set up: a court system, a pretrial system, a public defender system, we set up all these systems within the basement of a church. Now, that takes a tremendous amount of detail to pull that off.

Cliff Keenan: And it was successfully pulled off. Again, everybody who is involved with the program from the start through finish, could not identify any downsides to it in terms of both the results within the various agencies within the criminal justice system for Washington, D.C. and most importantly for the individuals who came and took advantage of this program. Let’s not fool ourselves, you know some people did end up getting stepped back is the expression.

Leonard Sipes: Well, out of the 530, there were 10 individuals who were arrested for violent crimes or for escaping correctional facilities so these individuals were arrested. But 10 out of 530 is a tremendous compromise in terms of the Superior Court, in terms of everybody in the criminal justice system. Paul don’t you agree?

Paul Quander: It is and one of the benefits that we haven’t talked about is the fact that all of the agencies were represented and as you just eluded to, we were all under one roof and there were no barriers, so for the first time in my almost 30 years in the criminal justice field, we had all of these agencies under one roof and people could actually see who their counterparts were from the other agencies and there was this comradery that grew from the U.S. Attorneys Office working so closely with the Public Defenders Service, working so closely with people from the Superior Court, working so closely with CSOSA my agency and the Office of the Attorney General. All under one roof with one purpose. It was just a wonderful thing to see government working so well for the benefit of the community and it’s the first time I’ve experienced that in my career and that’s something that will stay with me forever. To see us come together, to work together, and to produce a product like we produced with universal appeal. It’s just a fantastic event.

Leonard Sipes: And the viewers need to understand that this is an extremely rare. Those of us who have been around the criminal justice system any amount of time, any length of time, know that it’s really difficult to bring everybody together. I was part of the media effort and the Public Defenders office didn’t want an area photographed and they came along and said, you can’t do this. Those compromises were made instantaneously, not just from the media side but from the operational side. It seemed as if everybody simply said, we’re going to do whatever needs to be done to make this work and that is extremely rare.

Paul Quander: We had a lot of caucuses which meant that we could pull together, get the key people in and talk about an issue, resolve it and then do it which is fantastic. We didn’t have to write memos. We didn’t have to get approval. We caucused, we made a decision, and we moved forward and the program flowed perfectly.

Leonard Sipes: Now, the Superior Court, needless to say, they played a huge role in this because their judges basically had to (A) buy into the concept of the program, (B) keep the integrity of the operational values of the Superior Court and to keep all of that rolling. This statement has nothing to do with the Superior Court of the District of Columbia but I’ve always found judges to be a bit cantankerous and justifiably so in terms of the integrity of the court and the fact that that it, Cliff, was satisfied and I think is a testimony to the planning and the level of compromise that went into Fugitive Safe Surrender.

Cliff Keenan: Absolutely, as Paul said. The caucusing, the discussions, the conversations; these have been going on for months and the judges were very much a part of the conversation. This wasn’t anything that was being thrust upon them. They had a stake, not just for those offenders coming in who had probation matters for which warrants have been issued, but also for those defendants who had pretrial matters for which warrants have been issued. Giving the judges that the assurance that the upfront work, the recommendations, the full assessment as to who they are, and ultimately the recommendation from the prosecutor or from the Court Services, Community Supervision Officers, this was all going into having the judge do what the judge would have been doing down at the court house in any event and it was all there for them, for those cases that ended up in front of a judge.

Leonard Sipes: And to show you the level of complexity, I can remember the one lady who came in while we were in training and I was standing outside and she comes up and surrenders. She thinks that she has a warrant. Her husband, her estranged husband, said that he was going to take out a warrant against her for battery. She’s been living this for 4 or 5 months, living in fear, and she goes down and suddenly finds there is no warrant and a certain amount of people coming in didn’t’ have warrants and they thought they had warrants and certainly that has to be a big relief to them. At the same time could you imagine a police officer stopping that individual on the street and that person suddenly takes off or becomes threatening because they think they have a warrant but they really don’t.

Paul Quander: Across the country, D.C. was the 7th site in which Fugitive Safe Surrender has been undertaken and the prior six sites, about 15% of the individuals turning themselves in across the country did not have warrants so that’s something that is not unique to the District of Columbia. Warrants expire under certain circumstances and certain jurisdictions, other times people are under mistaken belief that they have a warrant but their living as if. It goes back to the old saying, if you perceive it, it’s real.

Leonard Sipes: If you perceive it it’s real. We do want thank, before the program ends, we do want to thank the United States Marshall Service for what they did to bring this program to us. It’s been successful throughout the country.

Paul Quander: Right and they took a leadership role in bringing it here to the District and working with us to make it a reality.

Leonard Sipes: And Paul you’ve got the final word. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for watching D.C. Public Safety. Watch for us next time as we explore a very important part of the criminal justice system. Have yourselves a pleasant day.
[Video Ends]

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