Sanctuary: Florida church invites fugitives to surrender

A Florida church wants to help flocks of fugitives get right with the law, and will even host their court appearances via a closed-circuit TV system that links the house of worship to the local judge.

"Operation Safe Surrender" promises wanted men and women in the Daytona Beach area the chance to give up in the presence of their God and the Rev. L. Ronald Durham, of Greater Friendship Baptist Church. Durham said that for accused criminals, the event beats having the police knock down their door in the middle of the night, and also could help fugitives go straight and maybe even "get employment as a result."

"The have a chance to come in and get the outstanding warrant against them addressed immediately," Durham told


"It’s better to come here today than to be picked up on the street," he said. "You go home by coming here. This is a much much better alternative."

Those who surrender will have a first appearance hearing at the church via closed-circuit TV before a county judge. The public defender's office will have 10 attorneys present.

"You can get your warrants disposed of. In some cases, they will be disposed of right here," Daytona Beach Police Chief Mike Chitwood told News 13. "If they are low-level misdemeanors, the judge will deal with probation or a fine; you could walk out the door. Now, obviously more serious issues, you may get consideration when it comes to bail that is set, but it's a safe environment."

Durham said the offenses, which range from misdemeanors to felonies, "really run the gamut."

For suspects who have been charged with non-violent felonies or misdemeanors, surrendering could lead to dropped or reduced charges, he said.

"We have counselors here who will speak with them," Durham said. "Once they do get called by the judge, there will be a public defender who will be on hand to represent them as they stand before the judge."

As of 10 a.m. Tuesday morning, about seven fugitives had come to the church to turn themselves in, said Durham.

"The judge will work with them regardless of what the crime is," Durham said. "In 99 percent of the cases, we expect the individuals who do come in to go home the same day."

This is the third time the church has partnered with law enforcement and the courts to hold the event. Durham said the event netted about 38 fugitives when it was held last year.'s Cristina Corbin and the Associated Press contributed to this report.