Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Public safety

Hernando offers get-out-of-jail-free card at Saturday event

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County residents who have low-level arrest warrants won't have to fear handcuffs if they turn themselves in Saturday.

Criminal justice officials in the county are conducting Operation Safe Surrender, in which people with nonviolent misdemeanor arrest warrants can come to the courthouse and receive favorable treatment. And they won't be arrested.

"It's a win-win for the defendants, the Sheriff's Office and the criminal justice system as a whole because we don't have to go out and look for them," said Denise Moloney, spokeswoman for the Hernando County Sheriff's Office. "They're coming in and getting them taken care of on their own terms.

Postcards were sent to 650 people in Hernando who collectively have 677 qualifying nonviolent misdemeanor arrest warrants in the county, inviting them to attend Saturday's event at the Hernando County Government Center. Offenses could include shoplifting, missing a court date or carrying unpaid fines. Those who show up will be greeted by representatives from the local State Attorney's Office, Sheriff's Office, Public Defender's Office, clerk of court and two judges.

The judges, Moloney said, will be more lenient with those who appear. Some citizens may have their fines reduced or warrants resolved altogether; it will be up to the judges. But nobody, Moloney said, will get hauled to jail for appearing on their nonviolent misdemeanor warrants.

"It's not a warrant roundup," Moloney said. "That's not what we're doing that day. It's to help these people get this black cloud of this warrant out from over their heads."

That's not to say nobody will get arrested. If someone arrives who has a violent or felony arrest warrant, they could be taken into custody.

The point of the operation is to get warrants cheaply off the books in a convenient way for people. Otherwise, anyone with a warrant runs the risk of getting sent to jail at any time, at the expense of the taxpayer.

"So now, if you get pulled over with the kids in the car, you won't get arrested on the warrant, won't have to post bail, won't have the car impounded, kids picked up, maybe miss work," Moloney said. "Going to jail's expensive."

Operation Safe Surrender got its start in Cleveland in 2005 after an officer there was shot and killed after pulling over a man who had a warrant out for his arrest. It's been a tool other jurisdictions around Florida have used successfully.

Pinellas County has had at least one event per year for several years. In February 2014, 114 people showed up to have their warrants reviewed, said Pinellas County Sheriff's Office spokesman Sgt. Spencer Gross. Fewer people have shown up in more recent operations, but Gross expects the agency will continue to conduct them.

"It's a public service, really," he said. "Everybody's usually appreciative."

Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or [email protected] Follow @josh_solomon15.

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