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'It's not a sting': Marion County Sheriff's Office, church partner for Safe Surrender program

50 Safe Surrenders occured in 2021
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Posted at 7:23 PM, Jan 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-24 19:23:07-05

INDIANAPOLIS — A law enforcement and community partnership designed to give those with non-felony warrants some control about when and where they surrender to law enforcement is seeing success in Marion County.

The Operation Safe Surrender (OSS) program saw 50 safe surrenders in 2021.

Marion County Sheriff Kerry Forestal says the program takes down the risk both for the individual with the warrant and for the law enforcement officer making the arrest. Individuals can choose the time and place of their surrender and have clergy and family on-hand to witness the surrender and provide support.

Some who safely surrender can appear in front of a judge that day depending on the charge, while others will be booked into the jail.

"If it's a higher risk, they're going to come into jail but they know now they're prepared. It's not, you know, lights and sirens at 11 o'clock on a Friday night when you have your kids with you," Forestal said.

Stephen J. Clay, Senior Pastor at Messiah Missionary Baptist Church, has been involved with the program since it started. He's been the pastor there for nearly 40 years and several Safe Surrenders have happened at the church.

"It's just an extension of the church's ministry; it's just as much a part of the fabric of our church as feeding and clothing and teaching and exhorting and evangelizing," Pastor Clay said.

Clay says he has witnessed several people with warrants have apprehension when they first hear about OSS and there is sometimes hesitation about entering the church's property.

"We've been a part of having to go outside and say 'this is not a sting, this is not a setup...' this is the role of the faith community that makes this program really what it is; it's so enriching to the community because faith based leaders, civilian led, are able to be the face in the front of it," Clay said.

Clay and other clergy members will often sit in the courtroom when they appear before the judge as a sign of support.

"When they come out, it is words that they can't describe but is written all over their face because they've had the warrant lifted. They've had the case reset, or they've had the matter adjudicated. In any case, they're not driving dirty anymore," Clay said. "They come out with the biggest smile, some articulate and say, 'Hey, Pastor, this is really awesome. I'm so glad you guys are doing this. I'm gonna go back and tell my friends, you know, I'm gonna let them know this really is legit.'"

Clay calls 2021's numbers an exciting milestone for the community and law enforcement sides.

"They have to have trust of somebody, and we're hoping the fact that it's clergy, that that person will be trusting the clergy if they don't trust law enforcement," Forestal said.

Those wanting to know more about Operation Safe Surrender can call (317)-327-SAFE, email or go online. Those that call will have their message returned by Clay or a member of his team within 24 hours.