People wanted in non-violent crimes in Davidson County can possibly avoid jail time during a one-time deal this year end — step one is going to a church.
The Nashville justice system and community leaders have teamed up for a two-day Safe Surrender event Dec. 10-11 at Galilee Missionary Baptist Church in the city's Watkins Park neighborhood. There are no religious requirements to participate.
Those with outstanding warrants who visit the church and surrender will receive “favorable consideration” and may be able to go home that same day, Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk said Tuesday.
They will be able to speak with an attorney and appear before a Criminal or General Sessions Court judge who will be on site at the church.
“It is very important that everyone understands this is a genuinely special one-time opportunity for wanted persons to stop looking over their shoulders and clear up outstanding arrest warrants,” Metro Nashville Police Department Chief John Drake said.
As of Tuesday, Funk said, about 33,000 people had outstanding warrants in Nashville, with about 11,000 of them wanted for failure to be booked on citations or failure to appear in court on their original charge.
"We want families home for Christmas and not have the stress of being away from them for the holidays," Funk said.
Funk also said anyone with a warrant including those wanted on violent offenses can visit the church, but he could not guarantee same-day release due to the seriousness of the charges.
Juvenile Court representatives will also be available at the event to address any child support or Juvenile Court issues, MNPD added.
Greater Faith Missionary Baptist Church Pastor Michael Joyner, one of the community leaders who asked for the program to take place this year, said the event benefits all Nashvillians.
"Through this we have been able to clean up our community and get people into rehabilitation," Joyner said at the church Tuesday. "Now (when they) are driving down the street, they will no longer fear being pulled over by the police department. It makes them safer, it makes our police officers safer, and it makes you safer, because they're not going to run."
Joyner said it also gives fugitives relief from going through the holidays hiding or worrying about outstanding warrants.
On the day of the event, the church will turn into a courtroom and offices for attorneys and clerks, with dozens of community volunteers on hand to help. Those who surrender will be processed using an on-site sheriff’s mobile booking unit before appearing in one of the makeshift courtrooms.
Members of the justice system participating in the event include Criminal Court judges Steve Dozier, Angelita Dalton, Cheryl Blackburn, Mark Fishburn, Monte Watkins, General Sessions judges Lynda Jones, Diane Turner, Ana Escobar, Sam Coleman, John Aaron Holt, Sheriff Daron Hall, Public Defender Martesha Johnson and Criminal Court Clerk Howard Gentry.
It's the third time the city has held the event since 2005.
The last time the event took place was in September 2015 when 86 wanted people voluntarily turned themselves in to police at the church over the course of two days.
At the time, MNPD reported only five had to be detained: three for outstanding warrants in other counties, one on a felony drug conspiracy indictment and another for domestic assault.
In 2005 the city hosted a similar four-day program, advocated by the U.S. Marshal’s Service, where 561 people peacefully surrendered. At that time, police said, only 7% of those who surrendered were taken to jail due to the seriousness of their charges.
This year's Nashville Safe Surrender event is set from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Dec. 10 and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Dec. 11, at the church at 2021 Herman Street just off Dr. DB Todd Jr. Boulevard.
People with questions about their wanted status or who want more information about this program can call 615-256-SAFE.
Natalie Neysa Alund is based in Nashville at The Tennessean and covers breaking news across the South for the USA TODAY Network. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @nataliealund.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: People wanted for non-violent crime can surrender at church event