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Columns : The Federal Voice

Unfair Criticism of U.S. Marshals

A recent newspaper report attacked the performance of the U.S. Marshals' Regional Fugitive Task Forces when their performance has been exemplary on a very tight budget.

July 25, 2014  |  by Jon Adler

Photo: FLEOA
Photo: FLEOA

Despite a three-year budget freeze and stagnating staff levels, the U.S. Marshals Service's Regional Fugitive Task Force (RFTF) units apprehended 73,422 fugitives last year.

There are seven dedicated RFTFs nationwide. These elite law enforcement units are comprised of deputy U.S. Marshals plus state, county, and local law enforcement officers. Their mission is to pursue the most dangerous criminals. The officers who serve in these units work long hours on irregular tours that often take them away from their families at night and into the most violent neighborhoods. And they are very effective at their jobs.

So why would the news media criticize their performance and commitment to apprehending state and local fugitives?

Last month USA Today published an article that disparaged the performance and commitment of the Marshals Service in supporting the RFTFs. The article by investigative reporter Brad Heath was titled, "Feds Locking Up Fewer Fugitives Fleeing Serious Charges." This alarmist title is both misleading and demeaning, and it seeks to undermine the formidable accomplishments of the task forces.

I know some of the heroes serving on the Regional Fugitive Task Forces, and their level of dedication is a blessing for the citizens of our country. In light of the imposed budget constraints, the RFTFs have prioritized their efforts toward the pursuit of the most vile forms of humanity. Nonetheless, USA Today sought to chastise Marshals Service leadership for an alleged failure to commit sufficient resources to these task forces.

Heath's criticism centered around data that showed a reduction in fugitives apprehended by the RFTFs in recent years. He argues that the Marshals Service was unwilling to allocate the necessary resources to sustain the RFTFs at optimal levels. He also asserts that numerous violent fugitives remain at large because the Marshals Service was unwilling to extradite state and local felons in instances where the departments couldn't cover the costs.

I take great exception to this disparaging article. Heath casually brushes past the Congressional Appropriations Committee's responsibility for the Marshals Service's strained budget for the past three years, and he draws the erroneous and offensive conclusion that the agency's leadership haphazardly shifted resources away from the RFTFs.

Agency directors are responsible for taking care of the agency's primary mission first with the limited resources available. USA Today opted to ignore this fact. Had Heath written an objective investigative report, he would have applauded the Marshals Service's RFTFs for apprehending 73,422 fugitives in 2013. Instead, he suggested the Marshals Service's alleged unwillingness to assist state and local departments with extradition costs has curtailed the pursuit of violent fugitives.

In his article, Heath states that the federal government has a "fleet of vans and planes" that it could use to transport state and local prisoners. What he fails to mention is that the Marshals Service does not have the funds and bodies to accomplish these tasks.

While Heath highlights the decline in fugitive arrests, he somehow overlooks the impact of sequestration, hiring freezes, and attrition on the Marshal Service's operations. The dire impact alone of sequestration left the Marshals Service operating on a fiscal year 2010 budget for 2011 through 2013. Congress, in effect, picked the pocket of the Marshals Service, while USA Today blamed the agency for not incurring extradition costs.

It was disconcerting to read this so-called investigative article that so flagrantly omitted the profound sacrifices made by members of the RFTFs. Since 2010, the RFTFs have lost eight heroes in pursuit of violent fugitives and another 11 members of RFTFs were shot or injured.

Had Heath been objective in his research, his article would have been titled, "Congress Siphons Marshals Service Funds Impacting Their Pursuit of Fugitives." His statistical findings should be sent to congressional appropriators, along with the targeted question, "What are you willing to do about this?"

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