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Back to Archives | Back to August 2005 Contents 

Fugitive Investigations

By Robert J. Finan II, Assistant Director for Investigations, U.S. Marshals Service, Washington, D.C.

Finding and arresting fugitives

he U.S. Marshals Service has long been the primary federal agency with responsibility for locating and arresting federal fugitives. Recently, however, Congress enacted new legislation that gave the Marshals Service statutory authority to support the fugitive apprehension efforts of state and local law enforcement agencies. With this expanded mandate, the Marshals Service has focused its attention on locating and arresting fugitives wanted by state and local agencies. The emphasis is on supporting state and local law enforcement agencies in reducing crime by apprehending violent fugitives. The Marshals Service has established regional and district fugitive task forces, has provided training to numerous law enforcement agencies, and has assisted in international fugitive apprehension efforts. Results indicate that efforts have been highly successful; so much so that plans are under way to expand the number of task forces.

Historical Background
The U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) has been tracking down criminals, escapees, and other fugitives from justice since 1789. Once the sole enforcers of federal law, today the USMS has earned a worldwide reputation as fugitive hunters. While the service is charged with multiple law enforcement missions including security of the federal court system, transportation and custody of federal prisoners, security of protected witnesses, and disposition of seized assets, it is the arrest of thousands of federal, state, and local criminals annually that has popularized the service.

What began with 13 marshals appointed by President George Washington eventually became the law enforcement component of the U.S. Department of Justice. The USMS has responded to virtually every significant event in U.S. history. Marshals are quick to mention that they put the first law enforcement officer into space when the honorary U.S. marshal and astronaut Jim Reilly carried his badge and credentials aboard the space shuttle Atlantis in July 2001.

For the past 215 years, marshals have played a significant role in securing the safety of U.S. citizens. Marshals have helped to reduce the level of violent crime by focusing on apprehending the most violent and dangerous criminals in cities. In reducing violent crime, marshals have also forged meaningful partnerships with local police departments and sheriff's offices.

For many years, the USMS focused on tracking down and arresting federal fugitives and prison escapees. In 2004 the service cleared more than 50,000 federal fugitive warrants. The expertise and reputation of the service is such that many federal law enforcement agencies forward their fugitive cases as soon as the arrest warrants are issued.

Apprehending Local Fugitives
Although the USMS has always had broad jurisdiction to apprehend state and local fugitives, this was never a funded activity. Beginning in 2002, however, Congress specifically appropriated funds to establish regional task forces that focus on fugitives accused of violent crimes. By using the growing network of regional and district fugitive task forces around the United States, marshals cleared more than 60,800 fugitive arrest warrants for state and local agencies in 2004.

Working as equal partners, police officers, detectives, troopers, deputy sheriffs, special agents, and deputy marshals are reducing the backlog of fugitive arrest warrants. A network of task forces covers nearly every community. There are currently five regional fugitive task forces (RFTF) that serve large metropolitan areas. There are 83 additional district task forces serving major cities.

The regional fugitive task forces encompass New York and New Jersey (includes Manhattan, Newark, and Long Island), the Southwest (includes Atlanta, Macon, and Savannah), the Great Lakes (includes Chicago, Springfield, Gary, and Hammond), the Pacific Southwest (includes Los Angeles, San Diego, and Las Vegas), and the Capital Area (includes Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia). These five task forces, in operation since May 2002, are responsible for clearing over 39,430 felony warrants and arresting over 30,119 fugitives. Midway through 2005, these five task forces have already arrested 8,700 fugitives.

Based on this unprecedented success rate, the service's strategic plan includes expansion of the regional task force to other locations. The USMS will establish task forces in Florida, Texas, New England, the Carolinas, the Mid-Atlantic, the Northwest, and the Midwest.

The USMS also operates district task forces. The 83 district task forces have collectively cleared more than 215,000 felony warrants and arrested more than 142,000 fugitives since 2000. This was accomplished because of the strong force multiplier that is created when city, county, and state police agencies actively cooperate.

The formal partnerships between the USMS and state, county, and city law enforcement agencies allow the federal government to actively and effectively share resources, training, equipment, and personnel to address the problem of violent crime committed by fugitives. One successful initiative that benefits state and local law enforcement is the USMS training program. To date, training has been provided to hundreds of officers and investigators from departments in 38 states. Training courses in basic fugitive investigations, which include tactical entry practical exercises, are provided to those who partner with the marshals on a task force. Since 2002 more than 3,000 law enforcement officers from 122 police departments have taken advantage of the special tactical training facility in Dallas. The facility was built and operated by the U.S. Marshals Service's Northern District of Texas.

Because the service has the broadest law enforcement jurisdiction in the United States, marshals are able to convey their jurisdictional authority to every city, state, and local officer whom they deputize as a special deputy. Because of advanced communications between task forces, critical leads are pursued within minutes, regardless of time zones. Unlike most traditional criminal investigations, the success of a fugitive investigation is measured in minutes and hours. This nationwide communications linkage is responsible for many high-profile captures.

Cooperative Spirit Is the Key to Success
The key to the success of the fugitive task forces has always been their cooperative spirit. It is neither the intent nor the policy of the USMS to assume sole jurisdiction over fugitive investigations brought to its task forces by state and local partners. Rather, the USMS expects to partner with agencies and to lend support, assistance, and expertise in solving the case jointly. For purposes of legal authority, the USMS adopts a case and then works it jointly with the partner agencies. Any case statistics are maintained for the purpose of accounting to Congress.

As a result of the statutory authority granted under the 2001 legislation, the USMS is no longer required to obtain an "unlawful flight to avoid prosecution" warrant to pursue the case using federal resources. However, in some cases, a warrant is obtained to satisfy other requirements such as employing air assets or conducting technical and electronic surveillance.

For many years, the USMS has focused on a single investigative mission: fugitive investigations. The purpose of such investigations is not to gather evidence in order to prepare a case for prosecution. Instead, the goal is to locate and apprehend the fugitive. During the course of fugitive investigations, all evidence (such as drugs, weapons, stolen vehicles, cash, and other property) is surrendered to the agency with primary jurisdiction. The USMS has accomplished its mission when the fugitive is in custody. It is this singular focus that has earned the USMS the reputation of being the most effective fugitive hunters in the country.

International Fugitives
Because the USMS is also the primary federal law enforcement agency conducting investigations of international and foreign fugitives, the service has strengthened its overseas network. Networks exist in specific foreign offices and there is a network of collateral duty investigators in every country around the world. The first foreign offices were established in Mexico, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic, all areas that were previously used by fugitives as havens. Additionally, through a formal agreement with the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), the USMS is able to obtain real-time investigative assistance when pursuing fugitive investigation leads overseas. A DSS senior special agent is permanently assigned to the International Investigations Branch to serve as the operational liaison between the USMS and the DSS regional security officers around the world. This national and international network has changed the way the USMS conducts business. All task force partners now have the benefit of this expanded investigative network.

Fugitive investigations involving foreign law enforcement agencies fall into two categories. International fugitives are those fugitives who are wanted by a federal, state, or local law enforcement agency and who have fled the boundaries of the United States. Foreign fugitives are those fugitives hiding in the United States who are wanted for criminal activity by a foreign government. In either case, the USMS has primary jurisdiction, with the exception of counterintelligence and counterterrorism cases. In the last two years, the USMS investigated leads involving 1,138 international fugitives and 984 foreign fugitives. During the same period, the USMS handled 1,059 extraditions and deportations.

As international cooperation among law enforcement agencies continues to grow, the number of international and foreign cases has increased. Extraditions and deportations have increased each year. Over the past several years, the USMS has provided extensive training to its international counterparts both in the United States at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Georgia and at the Special Operations Group Training Center in Louisiana. For example, since 1999, the USMS has provided fugitive investigations training for all of the members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force who make up the Jamaican Fugitive Apprehension Team, selected members of the Mexican Agencia Federal de Investigaciones (AFI), and officers from the Dominican National Police. Several of the courses were conducted in Spanish by deputy marshal criminal investigators who served overseas and are familiar with the culture and fluent in the language. In conjunction with U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents, deputy marshals trained special units of the AFI in California who were preparing to engage major drug cartel fugitives in northern Mexico. USMS foreign officer fugitive training initiatives have been so successful that Canadian law enforcement officials invited the USMS to conduct two such courses in Canada.

To help foster the spirit of international law enforcement cooperation, several years ago the USMS partnered with the Toronto Police Service and annually cohosts the International Fugitive Investigator's Conference in Canada. An original concept of former Toronto, Canada, Police Chief Julian Fantino and continued by his successor, Chief Bill Blair, this conference is now in its seventh year and attracts more than 400 police officials and criminal investigators from more than 20 countries. Training, case profiles, and best practices are shared among some of the world's most active fugitive hunters. Each year, significant fugitive captures can be directly attributed to the information sharing that takes place at this event.

The USMS plays a significant leadership role in international fugitive investigations by holding key management positions such as director of Interpol-U.S. National Central Bureau (USNCB), assistant director for fugitive investigations at Interpol-USNCB, and assistant director for international fugitive investigations at the Interpol general secretariat in Lyon, France. For several years, USMS management officials from the Investigative Services Division have held leadership positions in the Liaison Officers Association, an active international law enforcement network composed of foreign law enforcement attach├ęs posted at the foreign embassies in Washington, D.C.

Historic Nationwide Fugitive Apprehension Operation
Since 1981, marshals have conducted 21 special fugitive apprehension operations that were responsible for the arrest of more than 33,600 fugitive felons. With code names such as Southern Star, Sunrise, Gunsmoke, Trident, Sort, Want, and Fist, these highly focused fugitive apprehension efforts have always been structured as USMS partnerships with state and local law enforcement agencies.

Most recently, the USMS initiated Operation Falcon (Federal and Local Cops Organized Nationally), the largest fugitive apprehension operation ever undertaken in the United States. Between April 4, 2005, and April 10, 2005, deputy U.S. marshals teamed up with their city, county, and state law enforcement partners and other federal agencies to track down and arrest 10,518 violent fugitives located throughout the 50 states. These fugitives were wanted for violent crimes including murder, attempted murder, armed robbery, burglary, home invasion, car jacking, arson, rape, kidnapping, sexual assault, child molestation, bank robbery, the manufacture, sale and distribution of drugs, and weapons violations.

The effort lasted 168 hours. It brought together more than 3,000 officers from 25 federal agencies, and 934 city, county, and state police agencies to arrest some of the most violent fugitives in the country. The operation was responsible for the arrest of 162 homicide suspects, 553 suspected sex offenders including 108 unregistered sex offenders, 154 documented gang members, 638 armed robbery suspects, 38 arson suspects, 1,727 assault suspects, 1,818 burglary suspects, and 12 extortion suspects. Also arrested were 483 fugitives wanted for weapons violations and 3,835 fugitives involved in major narcotics cases. During the arrests, deputies and officers seized large quantities of drugs, cash, weapons, and vehicles.

The attorney general praised the operation as one of the finest examples of cooperation between federal authorities, and state and local law enforcement partners.

The Future
No single law enforcement agency has the personnel, funding, equipment, or jurisdiction to adequately address the problem of violent crime committed by recidivists. Only through large-scale, well-coordinated, cooperative efforts, such as the fugitive task force, can local law enforcement agencies hope to gain the resources necessary to track down fugitives. Today's fugitive in one city may be tomorrow's violent felon in another. ■



From The Police Chief, vol. 72, no. 8, August 2005. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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