Too many times police chases happen and result in crashes because people with outstanding warrants are afraid of getting caught.

We all hear the tragic accounts of high-speed chases that too often lead to some innocent bystander being hurt or killed.

Just Tuesday a driver sped away from Lower Paxton Twp. Police when officers tried to pull him over for a traffic infraction. The car later crashed in Susquehanna Twp. with the suspects getting away.

Fortunately no one who happened to be driving or walking nearby was hurt.

Many times these car chases occur because someone involved has an outstanding warrant against them and knows another brush with police could mean more than just a traffic ticket. It could mean time in prison.

That is why the Fugitive Safe Surrender program carried out in Harrisburg last week can be considered a success.

In all, more than 1,200 fugitives surrendered during the four-day event, which cleared up more than 5,700 warrants on the books.

The number of people who showed up went beyond expectations and some could not even be processed through the program.

They were instead given vouchers as proof of their surrender that guarantees them the same treatment by the courts as they would have gotten through the program.

Many of the warrants were for traffic tickets, unpaid child support, or in some cases, robbery. Just two arrests occurred on the spot during the program because people had more serious charges against them.

This event also was a great example of how the community can work with law enforcement, always a good thing. The program was held in Zion Assembly Church in the city so that perpetrators would feel they had a safe venue for their surrender.

The U.S. Marshal Service created the program and Harrisburg was the 14th city to participate. More than 200 people volunteered including judges, district attorneys and public defenders.

It has not just been a good program for Harrisburg.

A similar event held recently in Wilmington, Del., drew 1,073 fugitives including 101 wanted for felonies. In all, thousands of people have surrendered through similar events throughout the country since it started in 2005.

Many people who surrendered here told Patriot-News reporters they felt as though they could make a fresh start afterwards -- some were able to negotiate for fine waivers or for probation.

Law enforcement said it allowed them to do community outreach because they could talk to the fugitives on a different level than if they picked them up while investigating something unrelated, such as a traffic violation.

And that again is the big positive.

Hopefully there are fewer people in our community now who will be compelled to speed recklessly away from police or do something worse to avoid law enforcement finding out that they are fugitives.

Unfortunately there are still more than 30,000 outstanding warrants in Dauphin County so perhaps a similar program can be created in the future and even greater publicity will bring out more fugitives wanting to make a clean slate.

by Patriot-News Editorial Board
Wednesday June 17, 2009, 1:01 AM


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