Review of the United States Marshals Service's
Apprehension of Violent Fugitives

Evaluation and Inspections Report I-2005-008
July 2005
Office of the Inspector General


The United States Marshals Service (USMS) has several important mission, including protecting the federal judiciary; housing and transporting federal prisoners in custody; and ensuring the security, health, and safety of Government witnesses.8 In addition, the USMS is the federal government’s primary agency for apprehending fugitives. In carrying out this responsibility, the USMS maintains a record of all federal arrest warrants and has the authority to "investigate such [federal and state] fugitive matters, both within and outside the United States, as directed by the Attorney General."9

Fugitive: A fugitive is any individual for whom a warrant for arrest has been issued; who has escaped from the custody of federal, state, or local law enforcement or correctional authorities; for whom a warrant for arrest, or equivalent document, has been issued by a foreign government; or who has escaped from the custody of foreign law enforcement or correctional authorities, and for whom the United States has received a request for assistance in locating or apprehending.

Source: U.S. Department of Justice Fugitive Apprehension Report, October 19, 2004.

Fugitive Apprehension Policy

The Attorney General’s 1988 Policy on Fugitive Apprehension in Federal Bureau of Investigation and Drug Enforcement Administration Cases states that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) shall have apprehension responsibility for all arrest warrants resulting from their own investigations. However, the DEA may delegate apprehension authority to the USMS if it does not apprehend the fugitive within 7 days of the issuance of an arrest warrant. The FBI does not routinely transfer fugitive investigations to the USMS. As noted in the U.S. Department of Justice’s (Department) October 2004 Fugitive Apprehension Report, the USMS is currently reviewing the 1988 policy in light of the transfer of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to the Department in January 2003.10 Like the FBI, the ATF currently does not routinely delegate fugitive investigations to the USMS.

Although the Attorney General’s 1988 policy does not apply to law enforcement agencies in other federal departments, the USMS has Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) with a number of agencies to assume apprehension responsibility for their fugitives. The USMS currently has MOUs with the Social Security Administration, the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Inspector General (OIG), the Department of Veterans Affairs’ OIG, the Department of Education’s OIG, the Department of Agriculture’s OIG, and the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency, among others.

In addition, the USMS has MOUs with state and local law enforcement agencies to assist in apprehending their fugitives. This authority to investigate non-federal fugitive felons derives from 28 U.S.C. § 566(e)(1)(B), which states that the USMS is authorized to "investigate such fugitive matters, both within and outside the United States, as directed by the Attorney General." Since this authorization was passed in 1988, the Attorney General has repeatedly authorized the USMS to participate with state and local law enforcement authorities in the investigation, pursuit, and arrest of fugitives wanted on state as well as federal charges.

Types of Fugitives

Federal fugitives are categorized based on whether they are wanted for a felony or non-felony (misdemeanor and some bench warrants) and whether the USMS has primary apprehension responsibility.11 The USMS designates violent fugitives as those on its 15 Most Wanted list, Major Case list, and fugitives whose underlying or current offense is homicide, kidnapping, assault, aggravated assault, robbery, arson, an "over-the-wall" escape, or involves weapons or explosives as violent fugitives.

The USMS established the 15 Most Wanted fugitive program in 1983 to prioritize investigations of the country’s most violent federal and state fugitives. These fugitives tend to be career criminals with histories of violence or whose current offenses pose a significant threat to public safety. Current and past fugitives in this program include murderers, sex offenders, drug kingpins, organized crime figures, and individuals wanted for high-profile financial crimes. The USMS established its Major Case fugitive program in 1985 to broaden the 15 Most Wanted fugitive program. Much like the 15 Most Wanted fugitive program, the Major Case fugitive program prioritizes the investigation of the country’s most dangerous federal and state fugitives. Individuals who escape from custody are automatically elevated to Major Case status. There are approximately 300 Major Case investigations at any given time.

Types of Investigations

Deputy Marshals execute warrants and apprehend federal and state fugitives in the 94 federal judicial districts. The amount of time that Deputy Marshals spend on fugitive investigations depends on a number of factors, including the number of fugitive investigations assigned to them, additional district responsibilities beyond fugitive investigations, and the type of investigative entity they are assigned to in the district. The four types of investigative entities are:

Individual Investigators. Each district usually has a number of Deputy Marshals assigned to conduct fugitive investigations. These Deputy Marshals have certain fugitives for whom they are responsible for investigating and must balance these investigations with other duties – such as court security and transporting prisoners. The individual Deputy Marshals do not work routinely with state and local law enforcement or other federal agencies.

Deputy Marshals working individually operate within a single district. If a fugitive under investigation leaves the district, the Deputy Marshal transfers responsibility for the fugitive investigation to another district by sending a collateral lead to the district to which the fugitive fled. A collateral lead is sent electronically through the USMS’s Warrant Information Network (WIN), by facsimile, or by telephone. The lead provides background information on the fugitive, summarizes the investigation, and specifies how quickly the responding district must act. The district that initiated the collateral lead can request that the receiving district act on the lead immediately, within 48 hours, within 5 days, or within 10 days depending on the urgency of the investigation.

District Warrant Squads. Warrant squads are teams of district Deputy Marshals that conduct fugitive investigations within a district. Deputy Marshals assigned to warrant squads usually have additional district responsibilities, but fugitive investigations are their primary responsibility. Warrant squads work within a district and do not routinely work with state and local law enforcement or other federal agencies.

District Fugitive Task Forces. A district fugitive task force includes law enforcement personnel from other federal agencies, as well as deputized state and local law enforcement personnel.12 Like a district warrant squad, a district fugitive task force operates within the boundaries of the district. Deputy Marshals are assigned to district fugitive task forces on a rotating basis and have minimal district responsibilities other than fugitive investigations.

Regional Fugitive Task Forces. The Presidential Threat Protection Act of 2000 directed the Attorney General to create permanent Regional Fugitive Task Forces (RTF) consisting of federal, state, and local law enforcement personnel to apprehend the most dangerous fugitives. This Act provided the following language:

Sec. 6. FUGITIVE APPREHENSION TASK FORCES (b) AUTHORIZATION OF APPROPRIATIONS – There are authorized to be appropriated to the Attorney General for the United States Marshals Service to carry out the provisions of this section $30,000,000 for fiscal year 2001, $5,000,000 for fiscal year 2002, and $5,000,000 for fiscal year 2003.

Although the Act authorized funding for FY 2001, there was no funding appropriated. However, in FY 2002, Congress appropriated $5,825,000 for the "establishment of dedicated fugitive task forces on both coasts as proposed by the Senate." In FY 2003, Congress appropriated $2,916,000 to "establish two additional centrally-managed fugitive task forces in the heartland." The FY 2004 Conference language included an ear-mark of $11,476,000 for "all costs related to the regional fugitive task forces located in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Atlanta." Also included in this amount was $2 million for the "establishment of a new regional task force in the District of Columbia metropolitan area and $300,000 shall be for a task force in Billings, Montana." The five RTFs that are currently established are described below:

  1. The New York/New Jersey RTF became operational in May 2002 and covers the Southern and Eastern districts of New York and the district of New Jersey.

  2. The Pacific Southwest RTF became operational in July 2002 and covers the Central and Southern districts of California.

  3. The Great Lakes RTF became operational in July 2003 and covers the Northern, Central, and Southern districts of Illinois; the Northern district of Indiana; and the Eastern district of Wisconsin.

  4. The Southeast RTF became operational in September 2003 and covers the Northern and Middle districts of Georgia.

  5. The Capital Area RTF became operational in 2004 and covers the District of Columbia’s District Court and Superior Court, the district of Maryland, and the Eastern district of Virginia.

Like district fugitive task forces, RTFs include law enforcement personnel from other federal agencies, as well as deputized state and local law enforcement personnel. In contrast to district fugitive task forces that operate exclusively within a district, each RTF operates in two or more districts. The Deputy Marshals and other federal, state, and local law enforcement personnel serving on the RTFs can cross district boundaries during an investigation. The management of the RTFs also differs from that of district task forces and warrant squads. While individual U.S. Marshals supervise warrant squads and district task forces in their districts, the Investigative Services Division in USMS headquarters oversees the five RTFs.

Each RTF maintains an office in each of the districts in which it operates. Supervisory Inspectors from the Investigative Services Division direct the administrative and operational functions of the RTF; maintain communication among the RTF offices, the district offices, and headquarters; and supervise the RTF staff, including Deputy Marshals, federal and deputized state and local law enforcement personnel, and analysts. A limited number of Investigative Services Division Inspectors assigned to RTFs also conduct fugitive investigations. The majority of USMS personnel assigned to RTFs are Deputy Marshals who participate on the RTF either full or part time on a rotational basis. Once assigned to the RTF, these Deputy Marshals continue to work on their existing district fugitive investigations as well as any new investigations assigned to them through the RTF, but they are usually not assigned additional investigations directly by their district.

In the October 2004 Fugitive Apprehension Report, the Department proposed the creation of six additional RTFs based on the prevalence of criminal activity in specific areas of the country. They are:

  1. Southwest RTF – based in Houston, Texas, and covering eight districts in Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma;

  2. Florida/Caribbean RTF – based in Miami, Florida, and covering five districts in Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands;

  3. Carolinas RTF – based in Charlotte, North Carolina, and covering four districts in North Carolina and South Carolina;

  4. West Central RTF – based in St. Louis, Missouri, and covering 13 districts in Missouri, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming;

  5. Northern Pacific RTF – based in San Francisco, California, and covering eight districts in California, Guam, Idaho, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington; and

  6. New England RTF – based in Boston, Massachusetts, and covering five districts in Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.

Headquarters’ Support for Fugitive Investigations

The USMS’s Investigative Services Division provides investigative and administrative support for fugitive investigations and oversees the five RTFs. It also designates which fugitive investigations are 15 Most Wanted Cases or Major Cases. The Investigative Services Division includes the Analytical Support Unit and the Technical Operations Group, which provide analytic and tactical support for fugitive investigations.

The Analytical Support Unit maintains WIN, which is the USMS's central law enforcement information system. Through WIN, users are able to enter, collate, and retrieve fugitive and warrant information, including photographs. Users manage investigative information; access the National Crime Information Center; suspend, close, and delete warrant records; assign investigations to staff; share fugitive investigation information among districts, including collateral leads; and generate reports.13 The Analytical Support Unit distributes WIN data in a monthly report, informing districts of their number of federal warrants and rate of clearance. Using the report, districts can determine where they rank compared to other districts in the apprehension of fugitives, and USMS headquarters can monitor the districts’ performance.

The WIN data used for the analysis in this report is a subset of selected variables from the WIN system and is structured so that each record represents one warrant and contains information such as type of warrant, underlying criminal offense, current offense, the agency that initiated the warrant, court records, and related internal correspondence. A single fugitive may have multiple warrants, each of which is represented in a separate record in this dataset.

The Technical Operations Group includes the Electronic Surveillance Unit, which provides covert investigative and intelligence support to fugitive apprehension and other investigative efforts, such as telephone monitoring, electronic tracking, and audio-video recording. Electronic Surveillance Unit personnel prepare court orders, serve as expert witnesses, and train law enforcement officers in the use of electronic surveillance.

The Management and Budget Division supports the USMS fugitive apprehension program by providing personnel support to districts. District personnel report their duty hours, including those hours dedicated to fugitive investigations, to the Management and Budget Division through the standard USM-7 form. The Management and Budget Division uses the information to assign the districts personnel, including administrative personnel and Deputy Marshals.

Performance Measures for Fugitive Apprehension

The USMS measures its performance in terms of the number of federal fugitives apprehended or cleared. Apprehensions include:

  • Physical arrest – The USMS is the lead agency in the apprehension and Deputy Marshals arrest the fugitive.

  • Directed arrest – A USMS investigation provides enough information to allow another law enforcement agency to make an arrest in a location that is not easily accessible to USMS personnel.

  • Surrender – Fugitives turn themselves in to the USMS or other authorities.

Clearances include:

  • Arrest by other agencies – A physical arrest, directed arrest, or surrender that results from an investigation by an agency other than the USMS.

  • Lodged detainer – When a fugitive is imprisoned by a law enforcement agency other than the USMS, the USMS advises prison officials that the prisoner is wanted on other charges and requests continued detention of the prisoner or notification of the prisoner's impending release.

  • Dismissal – A federal magistrate or judge dismisses the warrant.

  • Return of the warrant to the original agency – The DEA or the FBI requests that the warrant be returned.

  • Purging of the warrant – The warrant is removed from WIN because the USMS believes that any further action on the warrant would be "impossible or unreasonable." For example, if the fugitive is believed to be dead, then the warrant is purged.

According to the Department’s FY 2004 Performance and Accountability Report (Performance Report), the USMS’s target was to apprehend or clear 49 percent (86,652) of all federal fugitives in FY 2004. The actual number of federal fugitives apprehended or cleared was 79,740, or 47 percent of the year’s total. The Performance Report noted that the number of state and local fugitives apprehended or cleared by the USMS increased by 26 percent from FY 2003 to FY 2004, making it difficult for the USMS to keep pace with a growing federal fugitive workload. The USMS attributed the increased workload of state and local fugitives to investigations conducted by the RTFs and other USMS-led fugitive task forces. Chart 1 shows the projected and actual number of federal fugitives apprehended or cleared from FY 2001 through FY 2004.

Chart 1: Number of Federal Fugitives Apprehended or Cleared
Department-wide from FY 2001 through FY 2004
Actual/Projected. FY 2001: 71,368/--; FY 2002: 73,097/70,901; FY 2003: 81,652/78,260; FY 2004: 79,740/86,652.
Source: FY 2002 - FY 2004 Department Performance and Accountability Reports

Note: In FY 2002, the USMS changed its performance measure from warrants apprehended or cleared to fugitives apprehended or cleared. For this reason, the projected target of fugitives apprehended or cleared for FY 2001 is not available.


  1. Recent Office of Inspector General reviews in these areas include Review of the United States Marshals Service Judicial Security Process, I-2004-012 (March 2004), and Administration of the Witness Security Program (March 2005).
  2. 28 U.S.C. § 566(a).
  3. The revised fugitive apprehension policy for the Department is currently in draft form. In addition, the USMS and the ATF are working on a draft Memorandum of Understanding concerning the referral of ATF fugitives to the USMS.
  4. 18 U.S.C. § 3156 (3) (3) defines "felony" as an offense punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of more than 1 year.
  5. The Department's October 2004 Fugitive Apprehension Report stated that there were 83 district fugitive task forces.
  6. The National Crime Information Center, maintained by the FBI, is a computerized index of criminal justice information, such as criminal records and information on fugitives, stolen properties, and missing persons, and is available to federal, state, and local law enforcement and other criminal justice agencies.

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