Monday, July 9, 2007

Fugitives among us

I don't know which is more interesting. That Akron's Fugitive Safe Surrender program is setting up to be a big success, or that we have a ton of fugitives living right under our noses.

The olly-olly-oxen-free program kicks of Wednesday morning and offers anyone with a non-violent warrant (felony or misdemeanor) a chance to surrender at a local church versus being hunted down by police. The House of the Lord in West Akron has volunteered to host the program, which has been a big success in other major cities.

Dozens of Akron-area offenders have already called in trying to give themselves up. Guess they're tired of living life looking over their shoulders. Still, why are so many on the run? Why is it so tough to fess up and deal with the allegations?

If you check with the Akron Clerk of Courts, you'll find that the top categories of warrants are drugs, thefts, and domestic violence. Now, contrast that with the population at the Summit County jail and you'll find that a great many of the non-violent offenders wouldn't be spending very long -- in many cases not even one night -- in jail if they'd just come to court days, weeks, and months ago.

A few years back, I got the idea to request the complete database of ALL active warrants at the Akron Clerk of Courts. Got the records for free (don't you just love Ohio's public records laws??). Anyway, we put the entire database on TV3's website and told folks they could search for their friends, neighbors, and even themselves, just to see if they or someone they know is wanted for anything. As I recall, that database got more web "hits" than a program we were paying big money to have on the web -- a reality show in the Flats with six people living together. What's that tell you about the number of people on the run in Akron and the number of people checking up on them?

I always thought that police should use the on-line court records like a reverse warrant trap. Wait until someone checks the warrant status of "John Smith", then immediately trace the computer that made the check, and close in on them. Who else is going to check John Smith's warrant status but Smith himself or those close to him, right?

I'm really hopeful the Fugitive program will help clear our courts of a truckload of cases and help some local residents get on with living. After all, the surrenders will give us news items for several days, so it's helps with work for sure. Still, I'd like to believe more folks will "be a man" as the saying goes, and get these things handled long before they see a way out on the evening news.

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