By Karen Zautyk
Readers of the various police blotters that appear in The Observer have likely noticed a common denominator among many of the arrestees: They’re already wanted by at least one other jurisdiction.
Next month, such warrant-ignorers will have the chance to wipe the slate clean and, according to the authorities offering the opportunity, transform their lives.
From Wednesday, Nov. 6 through Saturday, Nov. 9, Hudson County will host Fugitive Safe Surrender- North Jersey, when individuals hiding from New Jersey law can, in the words of the state Attorney General’s Office, “surrender safely at a Jersey City church, take responsibility for their offenses, and seek favorable consideration from the court.”
The program, announced last week at a Newark press conference, will be the fourth Fugitive Safe Surrender (FSS) sponsored in the state. At the previous ones — in Camden (2008), Newark (2009), Somerset/New Brunswick (2010) and Atlantic City (2012) — a total of 13,276 people with outstanding warrants turned themselves in. Based on the stats, an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 wanted persons are expected to show up in Jersey City.
From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the four “window of opportunity” days, individuals wanted by New Jersey jurisdictions for non-violent offenses can surrender at Evangelismos Greek Orthodox Church, 661 Montgomery St. They will then be escorted across the street to the Jersey City Armory, where Superior Court and Municipal Court judges will adjudicate the cases. Prosecutors and public defenders will also be present.
A statement issued by Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman’s office notes:
“While Fugitive Safe Surrender is not an amnesty program, those who participate will receive favorable consideration from the court. This typically results in significantly reduced fines and/ or probation requirements instead of incarceration.
“The vast majority of participants — typically, more than 99% of those who surrender — will be able to return home the same day.”
The sponsoring authorities emphasize that only the subjects of nonviolent warrants issued in New Jersey — warrants from any state or local law enforcement agency in N.J., not just Hudson County — are eligible for the special consideration offered by FSS. It is not intended for violent offenders or those who have “a history of violence.”
“Individuals wanted for violent offenses also may surrender — but they are more likely to be taken into custody,” Hoffman’s office noted.
Fugitive Safe Surrender is also open only to U.S. citizens and legal residents.
And despite Hudson County’s proximity to New York City, fugitives from New York jurisdictions may not apply.
Among the law enforcement officials making last week’s joint announcement about the upcoming event was State Parole Board Chairman James Plousis, who emphasized the public-safety aspect of FSS.
“Fugitive apprehensions,” Plousis said, “are inherently dangerous for law enforcement officers, for the fugitives themselves, and for their families and communities. Every fugitive who voluntarily surrenders makes himself or herself safer. Each surrender also saves taxpayer dollars that can be better spent on other public-safety matters.”
Members of the public who have questions about Fugitive Safe Surrender-North Jersey can contact the program through 855-FSS-NJ12 (855- 377-6512), or firstname.lastname@example.org.
A fact sheet and answers to FSS frequently asked questions can be found at http://www.fssnj.com/. That website includes information in English and Spanish, as well as video statements from individuals who participated in prior FSS events.
In addition to Hoffman and Plousis, those at the press conference included: Motor Vehicle Commission Chief Administrator Raymond Martinez; Hudson County Acting Prosecutor Gaetano T. Gregory; Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli; Passaic County Prosecutor Camelia M. Valdes; Hudson County Sheriff Frank Schillari, and Todd Clear, dean of Rutgers’ School of Criminal Justice.
Also partnering in FSS are: the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice, State Police, Department of Corrections, N.J. Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, N.J. Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, N.J. Office of Information Technology, and NJ Transit. Summing up, Hoffman’s counsel to fugitives with warrants hanging over their heads was: “Though not an amnesty program, this represents the best opportunity and the best deal you will ever find.”