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Back to Archives | Back to May 2006 Contents 

U.S. Marshals Service Celebrates a Legacy of Cooperation

By David S. Turk, Historian, U.S. Marshals Service, Arlington, Virginia

John F. Clark

he U.S. Marshals Service is not only the oldest federal law enforcement entity in the United States but one of the most effective and adaptable. There are consistently more fugitive arrests by the U.S. Marshals Service than by all other federal law enforcement agencies combined. This is because the marshals perform much of their work with agencies outside their ranks, particularly state and local police departments. On September 24, 2006, the agency begins its 217th year providing justice, integrity, and service, the three values named on the agency seal.

Throughout its rich history, U.S. marshals have executed numerous high-profile warrants alongside innumerable local police forces, other federal law enforcement agencies, and deputized citizens. Cooperative efforts remain a successful formula to this day. Why does the U.S. Marshals Service work so well with others? Primarily because the smaller size of the agency relates better to the needs of state and local counterparts. They have both traditionally drawn on their shared strength to accomplish a common goal: the capture of a fugitive. What constituted a posse in 1880s New Mexico Territory evolved into modern-day local or regional fugitive task forces.

Cooperation Is the Foundation
There are numerous examples of historic cooperative efforts between the U.S. Marshals Service and other law enforcement entities. But the seeds of cooperation were sown into the origins of the U.S. Marshals Service with the Judiciary Act of September 24, 1789. Within it, there is a section stating that a U.S. marshal was given power to appoint deputies and "command all necessary assistance in the execution of his Duty."1 This vague phrase fostered cooperative efforts with those outside its ranks, and time changed-but never terminated-the limits of its use. U.S. marshals have has exercised this authority in both heroic and unpopular circumstances.

In the early years, U.S. marshals and their deputies relied heavily on both federal and local authorities. The need for such integrated cooperation was evident in the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794. U.S. Marshal David Lenox of the District of Pennsylvania relied on General John Neville, the inspector of the revenue for the western portion of Pennsylvania. The unpopularity of the duty and Lenox's familiarity with local families necessitated Neville's assistance in serving court summons for violators of the federal excise tax on whiskey in July 1794. After Lenox and Neville served one angry farmer, a mob of nearly 50 men descended on the two men on horseback. Neville led or negotiated Marshal Lenox out of several potentially deadly situations before eventual capture. Although he later escaped, Marshal Lenox realized the futility of serving the summons alone. President George Washington heard about the situation and seized on a 1792 law that allowed the use of state militias to suppress rebellion with the consent of an associate justice of the Supreme Court or a district court judge to provide the needed assistance. In late September, a combined militia under General Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee marched to Pennsylvania with Marshal Lenox and other federal officials. By November, the Whiskey Rebellion was over.2

Westward Expansion
As the United States expanded westward, the role of the U.S. marshals increased in scope and structural importance. They became, along with the local law enforcement officials, the recognized law of new U.S. territories. Often the two entities worked together, especially after the restrictions imposed by the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which forbade the use of the military forces in civilian posses. The troubles in New Mexico Territory, known as the Lincoln County War, directly brought about the Posse Comitatus Act. In Lincoln County, qualified deputies were so hard to find that the U.S. marshal relied on local sheriffs and specially deputized them. Constant requests to Army officers drained personnel and proved ineffective. Patrick F. Garrett, simultaneously the Lincoln County sheriff and a special deputy U.S. marshal, had the unenviable task of leading civilian posses to find William Bonney, also known as Billy the Kid. Garrett drew heavily from local citizens and ranch hands who were used to long rides. In hindsight, local politics formed a national policy, and fostered new alliances between federal law enforcement and their local and state counterparts.3

Some of the new alliances required creativity. U.S. Marshal Crawley P. Dake of the Arizona Territory was noted for his special posses. Dr. Larry D. Ball has studied Dake's effective use of posses during the first sensitive years after the Posse Comitatus laws, 1878-79. The long stretch of border and the presence of transient populations in the Arizona Territory were the catalyst for periodic spikes in unlawful activity. For instance, 36 stagecoaches were robbed in the southern portion of the territory between 1877 and 1882.

The long reliance on the armed forces, and the loss of their use, tested Marshal Dake's resolve to suppress the criminals. Once the Posse Comitatus Act restricted him, and the limits on permanent deputies to one per judicial district had been applied, he created an effective office using well-regarded citizens in posses. Ball found that they were led by able permanent deputies with more specialized goals, such as searches that went beyond the American border. Marshal Dake used no fewer than seven known posses and nearly all captured fugitives. On one such effort, the deputies worked with civilian groups as disparate as detectives from Wells, Fargo & Company and the new Secret Service. The gunfight in Tombstone on October 26, 1881, occurred on Marshal Dake's watch. It also used the posse concept. Deputy U.S. Marshal Virgil Earp deputized his brothers Wyatt and Morgan, as well as Dr. John "Doc" Holliday. Although Wyatt Earp was briefly commissioned as a deputy, the grit of Doc Holliday and the steady hand of Morgan Earp ensured the outcome of the historic fight near the O.K. Corral. Marshal Dake's term expired in July 1882 having set the precedent of innovative posses throughout the American West.4

U.S. Marshals Service
The Civil Rights Era
After the settling of the frontier, state governments replaced territorial ones. New federal governmental entities chipped away at the wide-ranging duties of the U.S. marshal. The federal census, always conducted through the U.S. marshal with the aid of civilian assistants, was processed through other agencies after 1870. Counterfeiting cases were transferred to the fledgling Secret Service, although U.S. marshals initially aided Secret Service agents. With fewer powers, the deputies returned to their duties at the federal courts with little fanfare. They still performed some of the historic duties, such as the registration of enemy aliens during wartime, but their primary duty was the service of process. However, history's sun had not set on the U.S. marshals.5

In the 1950s, civil strife broke out in the southern states. The public reaction to Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which ordered the end of school segregation, developed into civil disturbance. Protests and riot activity at Little Rock, Arkansas, High School, in the fall of 1957, proved a precursor to a further series of similar events. Because of the Posse Comitatus laws requiring separation of the military from civil matters, it was inevitable that the U.S. marshals became the law enforcement tool in these important endeavors. While deputies saw duty in the aftermath of Little Rock, they also trained in riot control techniques in preparation for civil disturbances. It proved a wise decision, and their program was tested repeatedly for a decade.6

Few cooperative efforts in the civil rights era were better executed than the integration of the New Orleans public school system in 1960-61. Its best known representation is a painting by Norman Rockwell called "The Problem We All Live With." With unflinching integrity, Rockwell portrayed four deputy U.S. marshals, identified only through their bright yellow armbands, escorting a young Ruby Bridges to her first classes. However, few know the federal and local government's cooperative efforts behind the New Orleans integration details. A year after Ruby Bridges, an intricate plan to ensure a smooth integration process emerged. Based on the protest and boycott activity from the previous year, 60 deputies arrived in New Orleans in September 1961. The New Orleans police superintendent, Joseph Giarrusso, supplemented the deputies with a protective barricade manned by uniformed officers at each of the six desegregated schools.7

The deputies documented a smooth cooperative effort in their detailed duty logs. Deputy U.S. Marshals Paskal D. Bowser and Russell Jordan arrived at Robert M. Lusher School on September 7. Like other pairs of deputies during the detail, they traveled in a radio-equipped automobile and reported that morning to the local officer in charge. In this case, two African-American children were supposed to be enrolled at 10 a.m. that day. The two children arrived with their mothers in a taxi, which dropped them in front of the barricade. One deputy drove off with the car, while the other stayed at the school. At the end of the day, after the children were transported home, the deputy at the school was picked up by his partner. No incident occurred at the school that day, and the general integration process went smoothly throughout the city.8

Fugitive Task Forces
The modern manifestation of the cooperative efforts between the U.S. Marshals Service and their local and federal counterparts, the regional fugitive task force, developed from a framework utilized in the 1980s and early 1990s. Under Directors William Hall and Stanley Morris, Chief of Witness Security Howard Safir launched the first Fugitive Investigation Strike Team (FIST) in Miami in 1981. The concept was the integration of state and local police officers with deputies into a common team, with a special focus on high-profile warrants in targeted cities or areas. Eight more FIST operations followed, netting more than 11,000 fugitives through 1985. Two years later, the Warrant Apprehension Narcotics Team (WANT) concentrated on fugitive felons with drug charges. With the advent of specific designations through High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (known as HIDTAs) made possible by the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, high-profile operations continued into the 1990s with multiple jurisdictional targets. Operation Southern Star, for example, which lasted from August 6 until October 17, 1990, focused on drug felony warrants in Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, San Antonio, and San Diego. The U.S. Marshals Service worked with the Drug Enforcement Administration, 13 separate state and local agencies in Miami, four like agencies in Houston, four in San Antonio, five in San Diego, and three in Los Angeles. The successful initiative generally lowered costs per arrest, while specifically arresting an impressive 3,743 fugitives out of 5,660 cases assigned.9

Given its history of success, U.S. Marshals Service-led task forces developed alongside the FIST operations. In 1983, U.S. Attorney General William French Smith created a temporary unit to concentrate on violent crime within a specific region. The Philadelphia-based Eastern District of Pennsylvania Violent Crimes Fugitive Task Force lasted much longer than the six months originally intended, and is now in its twenty-third year. The U.S. Marshals Service supervises a multilevel force capable of expanding its jurisdictional borders to clear a large number of fugitive warrants. By 2004, this formula was duplicated in 73 similar initiatives, with additional participation in 59 other task forces.10

Thriving on prior records in efficiency and cooperation, the U.S. Marshals Service has continued to build on that concept. The Regional Fugitive Task Force (RFTF) is a stratagem pioneered by Assistant Director Robert Finan of the Investigative Services Division. The Presidential Threat Protection Act of 2000 provided the necessary legal structure for the U.S. Marshals Service to lead these efforts. Finan concentrated the RFTF efforts on violent felons, maximizing the public relations value-making it clear, in other words, that we go after people who hurt people. Broad federal arrest powers are transferred to deputized local officers, just as arrest powers were transferred to posse members in the Old West. The target is larger, its jurisdictional reach being one of five regions. Costs were spread over district budgets with some additional support funding. Investigative Operations Chief Mike Earp noted the RFTF shows "that same successful task force concept on a much larger and much more consistent scale."11

The successes of the regional task force concept are notable. The Great Lakes RFTF, initiated in July 2003, comprises northern Illinois, central Illinois, and northern Indiana. The task force commander, Geoff Shank, noted the value of technical support in its operations. The U.S. Marshals Technical Operations Group gives Shank and the Great Lakes RFTF an additional arm of support to track fugitives through electronic or financial means. He noted it is "the first entity requested by local law enforcement when violent crimes are committed and federal resources are sought."12 The jurisdictional expansion assisted the Great Lakes RFTF when its members tracked Illinois fugitive Jaray Dontrell Davenport to a bus stop in Knoxville, Tennessee, in April 2004. Capturing Davenport during his one-hour layover in Knoxville, deputies closed the case on the fleeing murder suspect.13

For more than 216 years, the U.S. marshals and their deputies have proven that cooperation yields results. Although the modes and technology changed over time, the perspective has changed little. Rounding up the posse still applies, and getting the job done is still the result. Benigno G. Reyna, a former director of the U.S. Marshals Service, recalled the historic importance of cooperative initiatives when addressing the Eastern Pennsylvania Task Force in October 2003: "In 1789 the very concept of a federal law enforcement agency was an innovation. It blended the efficiency of a central government agency into the complex fabric of state and local agencies. That was a radical approach that had never been tried anywhere in the world. . . . That concept of grassroots cooperation became the tradition. . . . And I believe it is a principal reason this agency remains so popular nationally with local and state law enforcement organizations."14

An Effective Method
Bringing together authorities at the federal, state, and local levels, U.S. Marshals Service-led fugitive task forces arrested more than 44,000 state and local fugitives, clearing 51,200 state and local felony warrants.15 As John F. Clark, director of the Marshals Service, noted, a task force that combines the resources of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies can be an effective tool for finding and apprehending fugitives. Few departments have adequate resources to maintain an active, internal fugitive apprehension squad, especially given the increased attention to homeland security on top of the already constant requests for police services. But a task force can help pro-vide the resources.16 For assistance regarding fugitive investigations, or to obtain information about participating in a task force, get in touch your local U.S. marshal. Contact information for local U.S. marshals can be found the Web at

1 Frederick S. Calhoun, The Lawmen-United States Marshals and Their Deputies (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989), 14.
2 Calhoun, The Lawmen, 28-33.
3 David S. Turk, The U.S. Marshals Service and Billy the Kid, U.S. Marshals Service research report, July 2004.
4 General Order No. 49, Adjutant General's Office, Headquarters of the Army; General Order No. 71, Adjutant General's Office, Headquarters of the Army; Larry D. Ball, "Pioneer Lawman: Crawley P. Dake and Law Enforcement on the Southwestern Frontier," The Journal of Arizona History: 243-244, 248, 250-251; United States Marshals: 1789 to Present, USMS Collections.
5 Calhoun, The Lawmen, 17-19, 63, 222-25.
6 Calhoun, The Lawmen, 262.
7 Norman Rockwell's painting The Problem We All Live With appeared on the cover of Look magazine in 1965; "60 U.S. Marshals Due to Go to New Orleans," Washington Evening Star, August 13, 1961; "New Orleans Is Peaceful As Schools Mixed," Daily Herald [Mississippi Coast], September 8, 1961.
8 Copy of report, Deputy P. D. Bowser and Russell Jordan to John Cameron, September 7, 1961.
9 Calhoun, The Lawmen, 307, 312-313; U.S. Marshals Service, "Operation Southern Star-A Fugitive Program Sponsored by the United States Marshals Service-August 6-October 17, 1990."
10 "First-Ever Fugitive Task Force Turns 20," Marshals Monitor (December 2003-January 2004).
11 "USMS Leads the Fugitive Brigade," Marshals Monitor (Autumn 2004).
12 "USMS Leads the Fugitive Brigade," Marshals Monitor.
13 "Urbana Murder Suspect Arrested," The News-Gazette, April 10, 2004.
14 U.S. Marshals Service Director Benigno G. Reyna, remarks, part 1, Eastern Pennsylvania Task Force, Philadelphia, October 21, 2003.
15 In addition, during fiscal year 2005 the U.S. Marshals Service arrested more than 35,500 federal fugitive felons, clearing 38,500 federal felony warrants.
16 John F. Clark, "Wanted: An Effective Fugitive Task Force," The Police Chief 72 (August 2005): 26.
17 For examples of the fugitive investigations, see Robert J. Finan II, "Fugitive Investigations," The Police Chief 72 (August 2005): 22-25; Tim Stehr and John Clark, "Apprehending a Fugitive: A Thanksgiving to Remember," The Police Chief 72 (September 2005): 24-28. Articles are available at ( in the archives section.



From The Police Chief, vol. 73, no. 5, May 2006. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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