The line of people waiting to turn themselves in on arrest warrants in Camden stretched down Ferry Avenue and around the corner for much of today, as an estimated 1,000 people showed up for the final day of Fugitive Safe Surrender.

More than 1,500 people have turned themselves in since the program started Wednesday, organizers said. The final tally for the four-day program is likely to top 2,000, making Camden's the second-largest safe surrender ever. Only Detroit, a city with a population more than 10 times the size of Camden's estimated 75,000, has seen a larger turnout.

"No one expected these kinds of numbers," said Sharon Beth Kristal, the national coordinator for Fugitive Safe Surrender. "When we saw it snowing (Friday) we thought, maybe that will slow things down. But it didn't. People stayed in line."

Indeed, organizers and authorities agreed the program was almost too successful. At Antioch Baptist Church, which hosted the safe surrender, people were turned away every day and told to return later.

The safe surrender program, which is managed and funded by the U.S. Marshal's office, is designed for people who have arrest warrants for nonviolent crimes hanging over their heads. Offenders can turn themselves in at a church, which provides a less threatening environment than a police department, and judges at a nearby makeshift courtroom review their cases and look favorably on those who surrender willingly.

Almost everyone who participates is allowed to go home that day with a new court date in the future (only 10 people had been arrested in Camden as of today), and often minor charges are dropped entirely.

Officials had expected Camden's turnout to hit at least 1,249, which is the number of people who turned themselves in when Philadelphia held a safe surrender in September. But 300 people showed up on the first day, and the crowd grew bigger throughout the week.

Judges processed cases until 9 p.m. Friday night and planned to work late again tonight. And the six judges on hand today processed only the people who came earlier in the week. Those who showed up today were given vouchers proving that they had turned themselves in under the safe surrender, and told to appear in court next month to face their charges.

As of today, nearly 600 cases had been reviewed, officials said.

U.S. Marshal James Plousis said he believed the turnout could be attributed in part to how well publicized Philadelphia's safe surrender was. People knew the program wasn't a trick, and knew they wouldn't be arrested. He also credited Camden's more than 300 churches with helping to spread the word.

Plousis's office budgeted $75,000 to run the program, but the cost of the program is likely to exceed that, due to overtime payment for police officers, judges and other unanticipated expenses.

Still, the safe surrender saves time and money because law enforcement agencies don't have to search for the fugitives who turn themselves in. Those who surrender also avoid potentially dangerous confrontations with police officers.

"Every warrant cleared is one less person running from the police, or being involved in a police chase," Plousis said.

And, he said, the program is changing some people's perceptions of police officers.

"People are impressed they're getting a cup of coffee and a sandwich from an officer they might otherwise be running from," he said.

Despite this morning's below-30-degree temperatures, hundreds of people, most of them from Camden County, waited for hours for the chance to clear their names.

"This is a beautiful thing they're doing," said Kevin Hines, who was wanted because he skipped a court hearing for a drug charge last year. "I was skeptical of coming up here today, but then I kept seeing more and more people coming out of the church and going home."

Babe Council and his 59-year-old mother, Edna, of Woodbury, waited for more than three hours before getting vouchers. Mother and son both had outstanding warrants for traffic tickets -- his from 1992, hers from 1994.

"I would have waited longer," said Council, 40. "It's a good feeling when you don't have to look over your shoulder anymore. It's a second chance."

Contact staff writer Allison Steele at 856-779-3838 or