LISBON - About 10 people took the opportunity Thursday to clear warrants or driving suspensions from their records through the Fugitive Safe Surrender Program at the Lisbon Nazarene Church.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine dropped by Thursday afternoon to meet the local officials and volunteers who were working at the church. The program is sponsored by his office.
DeWine said Columbiana County is the smallest county where the program has been tried. Normally, larger cities have been successful using the program to clear warrants without danger to law enforcement or the community. DeWine points out someone looking over their shoulder on the run from law enforcement, "sometimes they do goofy things."
"It's not good to have 3,000 people all looking over their shoulders," DeWine said. "If they are a victim of crime they don't want to report it. It frees these people to live in the open."
Those with misdemeanor warrants saw the judge right at the church, without being taken to a courthouse. In most misdemeanor cases the person was allowed to leave after seeing the judge.
"No one is guaranteeing them anything, but they will see the judge if they show up," DeWine said. "We'll treat you professionally and civilally."
Those with felonies were fingerprinted by the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigations and transported to the county jail for processing. Those with a license suspension could see someone from the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles, which also was set up at the church. Additionally people from the Department of Job and Family Services were available to help those appearing. A table of brochures provided information about mental counseling available in the area.
Michelle Gillcrist, director of programs and development for DeWine's office, said they seek to make the whole process welcoming, allowing people to see the judge in an informal setting and showing people the courts would like to work with them.
Volunteers from the church helped those coming in fill out their paperwork and provided lunches for the county officials responsible for looking up warrants and getting the person before the judge immediately.
"This is our way just to help get back into the community," said the Rev. Brian Brown of the Nazarene Church. "It's always nice to give someone a hand where they need it."
Although the numbers were small on Thursday, officials were hopeful things will pick up today and Saturday when the same program will be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the church at 505 N. Market St.
DeWine said holding the event at a church traditionally doubles the number of people who come in as opposed to similar events held at a courthouse location. He said he appreciates the Nazarene Church for allowing the event to be held there.
The final person who came in on Thursday had five warrants, according to Sheriff Ray Stone. He pointed out having people come into the church to turn themselves in is much safer for his deputies than attempting to serve warrants in their homes. Deputies there are uncertain about what is on the other side of the door, including possible weapons, the safety of entering older homes and the occasional dog.
Additionally, those with warrants also may decide to flee during a traffic stop creating a hazard for other drivers and nearby residents.
Mike Rankin, registrar with the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles, said the program was cut from the federal budget, but DeWine decided to continue it, which he sees as very beneficial. Two of the people who came in on Thursday had only BMV issues they needed to address.
"If they have what is required, we are reinstating them onsite," said Kathy Pritchard, chief with the BMV.
In the near future, Rankin said a newly passed Ohio bill will change some suspensions, making it easier for people to get their licenses reinstated, set up payment plans in order to do so and allow courts to impose community service instead of suspending someone's license or grant limited driving privileges to drivers with a child support suspension.
As of last week, the county had 2,471 outstanding warrants on the books, a number which changes from day to day.