Halifax Regional Police's first voluntary-surrender event was so successful that two people turned themselves in even though there were no warrants outstanding for their arrest.
People accused of non-violent offences were given the opportunity to come forward and get a court date instead of being arrested. The idea, borrowed from the U.S., may be the first event of its kind in Canada.
Insp. Don Moser said they didn't know what to expect when they made the offer, but one man was so eager he arrived at the Dartmouth North Community Centre nearly an hour before doors opened at 8:30 a.m.
"Outstanding success from our point of view," Moser said. "We're really, really happy with how the community engaged in the program."
Hundreds of outstanding warrants
Halifax Regional Police have nearly 700 outstanding warrants on people for non-violent crimes ranging from unpaid motor vehicle fines to possession of stolen goods.
Warrants can prevent people from getting a job or volunteering. And there's always a risk of being arrested at home, in front of family and children, at work with colleagues present or at a traffic stop.
Police chose the Dartmouth North Community Centre as a neutral location, less threatening than a police station.
Melanie Perry, a senior Crown attorney at the Dartmouth office, was shocked by the turnout.
'Amazed is a way to put it'
"I think amazed is a way to put it," she said. "I didn't expect it to be certainly anywhere near as successful as it has been."
By the end of the event Saturday, a dozen people had turned themselves in, including the two who were mistaken. Nineteen warrants were cleared up in all.
Moser said for many the outstanding warrants were hanging over their heads and stopped them from contributing to the community.
"They were hesitant to actually volunteer," he said. "There were folks that were likely inhibited to apply for certain jobs."
Perry said she heard several people talking about how the warrants were hampering their careers.
"They were just sick of worrying about it, " she said. "There was one guy, for example, he was doing some scholastic stuff and realized he couldn't get his red seal if he had outstanding charges."
The numbers weren't the only surprise. Some people had warrants dating back to 2001.
And two people discovered they weren't wanted at all.
"We checked them on the system and they didn't have anything outstanding so they happily went along their merry way," said Perry.
Program will return
No one was taken into custody. Each person was given a future court date.
Moser said it's likely they'll host similar events again, maybe with a fully functioning courtroom.
"We may be able to engage you right into the court system," he said.
Moser noted people can also go into police stations or call police to deal with outstanding warrants at other times as well.