The U.S. Marshals Service and local police agencies arrested more than 10,000 fugitives last week in an aggressive nationwide sweep that ranks as the largest single dragnet in U.S. history, the Justice Department announced yesterday.
The campaign -- dubbed Operation Falcon and timed to coincide with National Crime Victims' Rights Week -- included the arrests of more than 160 murder suspects, 550 sexual assault suspects, and more than 150 alleged gang members, officials said. More than 240 were arrested in the Washington area, including one homicide suspect in the District.
Marty Carlson of the U.S. Attorney's Office announces Operation Falcon's outcome at a briefing in Harrisburg, Pa.
(Carolyn Kaster -- AP)
Criminal-justice experts said that by apprehending thousands of fugitives in a matter of days, the operation underscored the low priority that law enforcement agencies often give to locating people who have jumped bail, violated parole or otherwise evaded state and federal courts.
"The dirty little secret is that there usually is not enough effort and manpower put into apprehension of fugitives," said David A. Harris, a law professor at the University of Toledo who studies criminal-justice issues. "Most fugitives are aware of this, and it makes the system a joke. . . . It's never been a top priority."
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said the large number of arrests was the result of a "concentrated, intensive effort" that is not possible under normal circumstances. But he said the operation will serve as a model for future cooperation between federal and local agencies. Ninety percent of the cases involved local or state warrants.
"There are clearly bad guys out on the streets that need to be rounded up," Gonzales said at a news conference with Marshals Service Director Ben Reyna. "More needs to be done. We understand that, and I think we're heartened by these results."
Large backlogs of warrants exist in most local jurisdictions, sometimes numbering in the tens of thousands, even though many local law enforcement agencies have special units dedicated to locating fugitives. Fugitives remain on the street because they often cross state or jurisdictional lines. Without a federal officer, local authorities cannot enter another city or county to make an arrest.
"In this area especially," said Alexandria police spokeswoman Amy Bertsch, "the criminals cross state lines very easily." Regional task forces allow officers from local departments to be deputized so they can make arrests outside their jurisdictions.
Bertsch said that when Alexandria police identify a violent suspect who works or lives outside the city, officers immediately notify federal officials.
The Marshals Service, which has been given added responsibilities by Congress as the FBI turns its attention to preventing terrorism, has set up a series of regional task forces focused on arresting fugitives.
Last week's dragnet brought in about 1,500 suspects linked to murder, rape, kidnapping or other serious violent offenses, according to the Marshals Service. Gonzales said about 70 percent had records of previous arrests.
Among the cases highlighted by authorities was that of a 24-year-old suspect wanted by Dallas police who allegedly killed a man by shooting him five times after leaving a drug house and that of a 21-year-old Atlanta fugitive who was found hiding under a trap door in his kitchen. In Henrico County, Va., a fugitive was arrested over his alleged involvement in a 2001 kidnapping and execution-style murder. He is a suspect in another homicide in Richmond, authorities said.
"We know from history, and from the bitter experiences of far too many victims, that a fugitive with a rap sheet is more desperate, more predatory and more likely to commit the crimes that plague citizens and communities," Gonzales said.
James Alan Fox, a professor of criminal justice at Northeastern University in Boston, said federal and state authorities should put more resources into chasing fugitives, but he added that it is not clear whether such efforts have a significant impact on crime rates.