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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?"

Comments (11)

Displaying 1 - 11 of 11

Dr. Trudy Slater, Police @ 7/26/2014 9:53 AM

Thank you Jon Adler for this article. The common theme from the media doesn't just disparage the busy, effective US Marshalls services. However, I respect the fact you say something! It amazes me that so many quality folks continue to join the thinning "blue line", bless them all!

Doug Wolfe @ 7/26/2014 11:30 AM

Another poorly researched "news" article by USA Today, a rag of a paper devoted to consumers accustomed to headlines and sound bytes, but containing little substance. They seem not to know states have the responsibility and authority to extradite fugitives from state charges. If the states do not want the person the Marshals or any other federal agency cannot just drag the person back.

Safir probably pointed that out but it would not have fit the theme of the story.

DW - Retired 1811

CaptMidnight @ 7/26/2014 1:45 PM

Yet another agency falls victim to the right wingnuts, who complain of "Big Government" and its associated costs.
Those in the House should be aware that W/O funding for the public safety, only anarhcy remains.

DEADMAN @ 7/26/2014 4:36 PM

I thought only chiefs,politically oriented brass and politicians read USA Today,what a rag.
I don't think it is the right nut jobs going after the U.S.Marshals Service,i have worked with and for one of the U.S.Marshals and it has been a real honor to do so and the problems stem from the left,the ones that cater to the present administration.The right doesn't disparage these men and women,it is definitely the left ,who cut their budget,started a hiring freeze and curtailed their efforts.
I wouldn't use USA Today to wipe myself,i might get an infection.

Capt. Crunch @ 7/26/2014 5:59 PM

From the information above I would think a wise move would be to merge the U.S. Marshals with another agency or agencies. Maybe Border Patrol or BOP.

TheRookie @ 7/26/2014 7:15 PM

John Alder;
I believe it would have been helpful to point out that there are; 500 total U.S. Congress Members. 435 U.S. House of Representatives and 100 U.S. Senators. So it's not just one party doing this.
Also, It would have been nice to mention the fact that POTUS Obama & U.S. AG Holder have signed off on sentence procedures and mandatory guidelines thus altering who & what is placed at a higher priority these days.

kevCopAz @ 7/26/2014 7:40 PM

For clarity, I worked PHX PD 32+ years and am working for a County Law Enforcement agency now. During this time I knew several "local" cops who worked the Marshall Fugitive Task Forces. Each member of those units were well seasoned, good and very productive cops. But there was one issues with these task for could be d. There is a budget for each unit. There is overtime pay included in the budget, but due to restrictions with marshals they can not be paid over time for some of the time that they do work past quoting time since they (and all Federal agents) get 25% (ink if % is accurate) in pay added to their yearly pay to cover these OT times. Yet since the $ is in the budget, it MUST be used during that period or it will be taken away in the next year budget. I know for a fact that the locals are told to "spend this $ so we don't lose it!". They "work" hours, not very productively just to "burn the #$ up". this is wrong and needs to be fixed

Bman @ 7/27/2014 7:59 AM

I think it would be a good idea to merge a dozen federal agencies. Mostly all of the security guard Police Forces around D.C. that serve very little LE purpose. The military civilian police, pentagon police and their individual investigative agencies should be as well. I would even consider making the secret service fall under the marshals. Lastly, a good friend of mine worked for the Marshals for years at different locations and served on an RFTF. He said the fugitives caught by RFTF were being counted with state and local fugitives and fudging the numbers to make them look better than the regular field offices. In turn, the task force would receive more funding at the cost of the field offices. He said for years, field offices have struggling to fund their operations while the task forces have been getting all of the money. So when I see that count above, I know not all of the people there are federal fugitives.

tedb @ 7/28/2014 8:44 AM

PLEASE..."TheRookie": 435 and 100 do not add up to 500. "KevCopAz": please proofread before sending. You made an excellent point but I really had to think hard in order to get past the typos to the point. Not down on you fellas, just asking for a little assistance here.
I am retired from the US Border Patrol as an Agent in Charge, so have comments on this one:
1.) Don't even think of merging the USMS with the Border Patrol. You would ruin the USMS immediately, as the current Border Patrol is nothing more than a political arm of the executive branch and is no longer an effective law-enforcement agency.
2.) Although the article points out that the US Government has lots of vans and planes, I can recall loaning out my transport vans on several occasions when the USMS had emergency needs, as they did not have such vehicles available at every office.

Tommy Thompson @ 8/12/2014 3:12 PM

I retired last year after 29 1/2 years with the Marshals Service. I was a Chief Deputy for the last 15 and involved in HQ committees during much of that time. Part of the problem is the stagnant budget. The employees get step raises most years out of the same money as in 2010. Additionally other costs go up (rent, fuel, ammo, travel, etc.). I also believe the fact that the Marshals haven't had a national fugitive roundup since 2009 adds to the lower numbers. The two years I helped manage Operation FALCON at HQ in June 2008 and June 2009 the USMS and its state, local, and federal partners arrested over 19,000 and 35,000 felons respectively. Those numbers were a big part of the 12,000 per year we averaged back then. I believe the declining numbers are both budget driven and program driven, not due to a lack of "want to" by the agency.

J @ 8/12/2014 5:01 PM

Bman-your friend may have worked with the Marshals but he has no clue about numbers. The USMS reports every arrest they make for federal, state and local fugitives. Each district does this as do the 7 RFTF's. People who don't pull reports want to say it's fudging numbers but that 73.000+ is the entire USMS for state and local arrests, not just the RFTF Operations. There were also over 30,000 federal arrests in the same year by the USMS as a whole. Plenty of people talk like they "know" but those are the facts. The budget goes to all offices; the RFTF's do not get the lion's share. more than 40 other district task forces get funded by the same pot to run their own state and local partnered task forces. If the district field offices were not being funded, they'd all be screaming to get on an RFTF.
Brad Heath continues to write articles blaming many police agencies for the lack of arrests/extraditions of fugitives when it is a decision driven by budgets not under police control.

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