Coordination of Investigations by Department of Justice Violent Crime Task Forces
Evaluation and Inspections Report I-2007-004
Office of the Inspector General
The Department of Justice (Department) has been making increasing use of different types of task forces – teams of federal, state, and local law enforcement officers – to help tribal, state, and local governments reduce violent crime. At the end of fiscal year (FY) 2005, there were 84 cities with more than 1 violent crime task force operated by the Department and its components, up from 20 cities at the beginning of FY 2003. As the number of cities with multiple task forces has increased, concerns have also risen among Department officials, members of Congress, and local police chiefs that the Departmentís task force investigations must be well coordinated to avoid duplication of effort.
In the Conference Report on the Departmentís FY 2006 appropriations bill, the Appropriations Committees directed that the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) assess the coordination of investigations conducted by four types of Department violent crime task forces:1
Violent Crime Impact Teams (VCIT) – The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) had 22 Violent Crime Impact Teams operating in 22 cities. Violent Crime Impact Teams focus on reducing gun-related violent crime in targeted urban areas.
Mobile Enforcement Teams (MET) – The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) had 22 Mobile Enforcement Teams operating in 21 DEA districts. Mobile Enforcement Teams focus on reducing drug-related violent crime in targeted neighborhoods.
Safe Streets Task Forces (SSTF) – The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had 160 Safe Streets Task Forces in 138 cities. Safe Streets Task Forces focus on investigating violent crimes and apprehending violent fugitives.
Regional Fugitive Task Forces (RFTF) – The U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) had 6 Regional Fugitive Task Forces operating in 23 federal judicial districts. Regional Fugitive Task Forces focus on apprehending violent federal and state fugitives.
During FYs 2003 through 2006, ATF, the DEA, the FBI, and the USMS operated 210 of these violent crime task forces in 256 cities.2 The FBI operated 160 of these 210 violent crime task forces, and the FBI is the only component whose mission includes responsibility for investigating all types of violent crime and apprehending violent fugitives.
Our review assessed how well these four types of task forces coordinate their work, including whether the task forces conduct duplicate investigations, cooperate in joint investigations, and “deconflict” law enforcement events to avoid interfering with one another’s field operations and to ensure officer safety. In conducting this review, we interviewed officials from the Office of the Deputy Attorney General; ATF, DEA, FBI, and USMS managers at headquarters and in field offices; U.S. Attorney’s Office officials; Special Agents and Deputy Marshals; and state and local law enforcement officials.
To evaluate the coordination of task force investigations in the field, we visited eight cities with multiple Department task forces in different regions of the country (Table 1). The cities we visited were Los Angeles, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; Chicago, Illinois; Gary, Indiana; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Camden, New Jersey; Atlanta, Georgia; and Birmingham, Alabama. 3 To identify instances of cooperation or duplications of effort among the task forces, we also examined data on all arrests reported by the task forces during FYs 2003 through 2005.
Table 1: Task Forces in the Eight Cities Visited During FY 2006
|CITIES||ATF Violent Crime Impact Team||DEA Mobile Enforcement Team||FBI Safe Streets Task Force||USMS Regional Fugitive Task Force|
Las Vegas, NV
Los Angeles, CA
RESULTS IN BRIEF
Our review found that the Department’s coordination of its task force investigations is not fully effective at preventing duplication of effort. In FY 2005, there were 84 cities with 2 or more violent crime task forces operated by ATF, the DEA, the FBI, and the USMS. Although the missions of these task forces overlap, with the exception of anti-gang task forces, the Department does not require the components to coordinate operations or investigations, cooperate in joint investigations, or deconflict law enforcement events conducted by their violent crime task forces.
In August 2005, the Department issued a policy requiring the components to obtain the Deputy Attorney General’s approval to conduct anti-gang programs and activities in new locations. However, even after August 2005 coordination issues occurred related to anti-gang task force activities in at least three cities. The issues arose when the FBI approached local law enforcement officials in three cities about providing local officers to participate in new or revitalized FBI Violent Gang Safe Streets Task Forces. Each of these instances resulted in either the U.S. Attorney or the local Chief of Police expressing concern about the coordination of task force activities.
To improve coordination of the Department’s anti-gang activities, in June 2006 the Office of the Deputy Attorney General established a detailed application process for new anti-gang activities requiring support from and a recommendation by the U.S. Attorney for the jurisdiction in which any new anti-gang task forces would operate. On March 23, 2007, the Associate Deputy Attorney General responsible for task force coordination reported that, “Since those procedures have been in place, the Department of Justice components have exhibited 100% compliance with the policies on new anti-gang task forces and all new anti-gang task forces have been subject to review by the Anti-Gang Coordination Committee and approval by the Deputy Attorney General.”
However, outside of anti-gang activities, there are still no Department policies requiring the coordination of the operations of other violent crime task forces. As a result of the lack of Department-level policies requiring coordination, the components’ coordination of task force investigations is inadequate. Some components have nation-wide policies that require coordination of task force operations. ATF, DEA, and USMS headquarters managers entered into Memorandums of Understanding that require their task forces to coordinate their operations. In contrast, the FBI’s policy, issued in 1993, describes the coordination of investigations by multi-jurisdictional FBI Safe Streets Task Forces made up of federal, state, and local agencies. The FBI policy requires that proposals for new FBI Safe Streets Task Forces list other law enforcement agencies in the area with which the new FBI Safe Streets Task Force would have to coordinate. The FBI policy does not address coordination of existing task forces, FBI coordination with new task forces created by the other Department components, or FBI participation in or coordination of investigations with violent crime task forces led by other Department components.
Our analysis of nation-wide task force arrest data also indicated that the components’ coordination of task force investigations is uneven. The components’ arrest data from FYs 2003 through 2005 included 1,288 arrests that were reported by more than one task force. Based on the components’ descriptions of the circumstances surrounding each arrest, we concluded that 768 of those arrests resulted from duplicate investigations by 2 task forces, while only 520 resulted from joint task force investigations.
Task force operations in some cities we visited are better coordinated because the U.S. Attorneys and local task force managers have local policies on coordination and use information-sharing systems to coordinate task force operations in their jurisdictions. In other cities, task forces do not have coordination policies, do not use information-sharing systems, or operate as independent entities rather than as part of a coordinated Department approach for combating violent crime. Task force operations in these cities were less coordinated, and we found more instances in which the task forces conducted duplicate investigations. We also found that failures to coordinate task force investigations resulted in three “blue-on-blue” incidents – incidents in which the failure to deconflict events resulted in task force members being misidentified as criminals by members of other task forces.
In the sections that follow, we summarize our specific findings regarding the Department’s and the components’ efforts to coordinate violent crime task force investigations. We then summarize our observations of components’ coordination of operations at the task force level, the investigation level, and the law enforcement event level. In the final section, we summarize the combined coordination efforts of the components and the U.S. Attorneys in each of the eight cities we visited.
Overall, we found that the Department does not adequately coordinate the operations of task forces, particularly when creating new task forces in jurisdictions in which other task forces are already operating. For example, when Congress directed the Department to create USMS Regional Fugitive Task Forces beginning in FY 2001, the Department did not coordinate them with or evaluate the missions of 40 other violent crime task forces that were already operational in the same geographic areas. The 40 existing task forces included 6 FBI Safe Streets Task Forces with fugitive apprehension responsibilities. The congressionally defined mission of the newer USMS Regional Fugitive Task Forces overlaps with the mission of the six existing FBI Safe Streets Task Forces with fugitive apprehension responsibilities.
Similarly, when the Department began establishing ATF Violent Crime Impact Teams in 2004, it did not evaluate potential operational overlaps when locating these ATF task forces in cities where DEA and FBI task forces with similar missions were already operating. For example, the Department created a new ATF Violent Crime Impact Team with a gang focus in one city with an established FBI Violent Gang Safe Streets Task Force. The ATF Special Agent in Charge in that city acknowledged to the OIG that there was potential for investigations to overlap with the FBI’s. Similarly, an FBI Supervisory Special Agent stated, “I am truly concerned that we are seriously going to be duplicating [each other’s investigations of] gangs.”
In May 2005, to ensure coordination of Department anti-gang efforts, the Attorney General created the Anti-Gang Coordination Committee. Further, in June 2005, the Deputy Attorney General established a policy that in areas with multiple anti-gang task forces, all such task forces and initiatives shall be co-located to ensure coordination, intelligence sharing, and target deconfliction. Where co-location is not feasible, the district’s Anti-Gang Coordinator is required to establish a formal mechanism for coordinating anti-gang activities that includes regular meetings of the federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies involved in anti-gang investigations.
In August 2005, the Deputy Attorney General expanded Department policy to include the creation of new anti-gang task forces and the conduct of new anti-gang activities. The August 2005 policy requires that new anti-gang activities and programs, such as new Violent Crime Impact Teams and Safe Streets Task Forces, be established only after review by the Anti-Gang Coordination Committee and approval by the Deputy Attorney General. In June 2006, the Office of the Deputy Attorney General established a detailed process, provided application materials, and directed the components to follow the application process when proposing new anti-gang task forces. This process requires the components to first submit plans for new anti-gang task forces to the ATF, DEA, and FBI Special Agents in Charge; the U.S. Marshals; and the U.S. Attorneys in the proposed geographic areas of responsibility. Only then can plans for a new anti-gang task force be submitted for review by the Anti-Gang Coordination Committee.
We believe that the Deputy Attorney General’s August 2005 anti-gang policy and detailed related guidance issued in June 2006 are positive steps that will improve the coordination of anti-gang task force activities in the Department and help reduce competition among components’ gang task forces for participation by local law enforcement officers. However, we believe that guidance is still needed to address a larger problem with competition for resources among other violent crime task forces. Several Special Agents in Charge, U.S. Marshals, and task force managers explained that the components compete for local task force members because the participation of local officers is critical to the success of their task forces. As a result, ATF, the DEA, the FBI, and the USMS try to encourage local law enforcement agencies to participate by offering significant financial and training incentives. ATF and DEA Special Agents and USMS Deputy Marshals responsible for task force operations told us that their components coordinated their task forces’ requests for local officers, but that the FBI cannot always be relied upon to do so. In response to this criticism, FBI headquarters managers pointed out that the Director’s November 16, 1993, memorandum establishing the FBI’s national gang strategy states that FBI “field offices will ensure that all [f]ederal, state, and local law enforcement agencies are provided the opportunity to participate and contribute to this [the FBI’s] investigative effort.” An FBI Safe Streets Task Force headquarters manager also pointed out that, “It’s the responsibility of the [Special Agents in Charge] in the field to always be coordinating, somehow, someway.”
We found that the components’ coordination of task force operations is uneven. The DEA is the only component that has instituted nation-wide policies on coordinating new task force operations. DEA task force managers are required by DEA policy to coordinate Mobile Enforcement Team operations with other Department components. DEA task force managers told us that, because Mobile Enforcement Teams conduct extensive undercover operations in specific geographic areas, it is important for the other law enforcement components to be aware of proposed DEA operations. DEA task force managers were generally effective in coordinating Mobile Enforcement Team deployments, but coordination issues surrounding the 2005 deployment of a Mobile Enforcement Team in one city created tensions among the federal law enforcement components in that city.
The DEA also has a nation-wide policy requiring its task forces to avoid duplicate investigations and to deconflict events. However, we found that deconfliction of task force events was uneven because the other components did not have national policies. For example, High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) information-sharing systems, which can be used to avoid duplicate investigations and to deconflict events, are available in seven of the eight cities we visited.4 In accordance with policy, the DEA task forces use the HIDTA systems to avoid duplicate investigations and to deconflict events. In six cities, the local HIDTA system is also used by ATF and FBI task forces to identify suspects under investigation by the various task forces. However, no nation-wide ATF or FBI policy requires the use of HIDTA or other local information-sharing systems to avoid duplicate investigations or deconflict events.
We found similar gaps in the coordination of fugitive investigations. To coordinate the operations of USMS Regional Fugitive Task Forces, the USMS negotiated agreements with ATF and the DEA to conduct those components’ fugitive investigations. However, the FBI and the USMS have not reached a similar agreement. Instead, under a 1988 Attorney General memorandum on fugitive apprehensions, the FBI pursues federal fugitives on warrants that the FBI obtains, and the USMS has primary responsibility for the apprehension of all other federal fugitives.
We found that the FBI and the USMS fugitive apprehension efforts are better coordinated when the FBI obtains federal Unlawful Flight to Avoid Prosecution warrants. These warrants are recorded in the federal Warrant Information Network, allowing USMS Deputy Marshals to coordinate their fugitive investigations. However, FBI Safe Streets Task Forces often assist state and local law enforcement in their fugitive investigations without first obtaining a federal Unlawful Flight to Avoid Prosecution warrant. This sometimes has led to duplicate fugitive investigations conducted by USMS and FBI task forces. We found that in three cities where FBI Safe Streets Task Forces do not always obtain federal Unlawful Flight to Avoid Prosecution warrants, they conducted investigations on fugitives who were also the subjects of ongoing USMS fugitive investigations. These duplicate fugitive investigations can create a risk to officer safety.
Our analysis of nation-wide task force arrest data also indicates that the components’ coordination of task force investigations is uneven. Of the 97,228 arrests the components’ task forces made from FYs 2003 through 2005, we found that 1,288 had been reported by more than one task force.5 While this number is small, it represents significant efforts by two task forces all the way up to arrest. Accordingly, we asked the components to review their files and describe their coordination efforts and the circumstances of these arrests. On the basis of the information the components provided, we found that the components conducted 768 duplicate investigations (60 percent) and cooperated in 520 joint investigations (40 percent). The OIG also requested information from the components on individuals under investigation by the task forces during FYs 2003 through 2005. However, we found that the data provided by the components was not sufficient to enable us to reliably identify duplicate investigations that did not result in an arrest or in which the arrest was reported by only one of the components that had investigated the subject. Nonetheless, our analysis of arrests that were reported by more than one component demonstrated that the task forces were more likely to duplicate another task force’s investigation than to cooperate in a joint investigation.
Task Force Coordination
The level of coordination of task force investigations across the country is also uneven. U.S. Attorneys and task force managers in some cities have developed local policies and use information-sharing systems to coordinate task force operations. In other cities, task forces do not have local policies, do not use information-sharing systems, and operate as independent entities rather than as part of a coordinated Department effort.
We examined task force efforts at the three operational levels where specific actions are required for coordination: the task force level, the investigation level, and the event level. At the task force level, we examined whether target areas and operations were managed so that task forces had well-defined areas of responsibility. At the investigation level, we examined whether task force members cooperated during individual investigations to avoid duplication of effort and whether they conducted joint investigations. At the event level, we examined whether task force members deconflicted specific events – such as undercover operations, surveillance, or execution of a search warrant or arrest warrant – during task force investigations to avoid interfering with each other and to protect officer safety.
Within each of the three operational levels, we identified critical factors that were important to coordination and noted the presence or absence of these factors in each of the eight cities we visited.
Management of Task Force Operations
We found the critical factor in task force management is whether the U.S. Attorney’s Office oversees the coordination of task force operations. U.S. Attorneys are the chief federal law enforcement officers in each federal judicial district and, therefore, along with the components’ task force managers, have a responsibility for coordinating the four types of violent crime task forces. In four of the eight cities we visited, task force operations are not well coordinated by U.S. Attorneys and component task force managers. In Atlanta, Birmingham, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles, the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices do not actively coordinate task force operations. Instead, the components manage task force investigations independently and attempt to resolve duplication of effort through information-sharing systems or word of mouth.
In contrast, the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices in the other four cities we visited actively coordinate task force operations by conducting regular meetings at which the task forces assume responsibility for specific investigations or by assigning Assistant U.S. Attorneys to task forces to provide oversight and coordination. For example, in Philadelphia, ATF, DEA, FBI, and Philadelphia Police Department task force members coordinate their operations and investigations of selected violent crimes, firearms, and narcotics cases in the six Philadelphia Police Department detective divisions in monthly meetings sponsored by the U.S. Attorney and the Philadelphia Police Commissioner. The U.S. Attorney’s Offices in Camden and Chicago also direct task force operations in their areas by assigning specific investigations of violent or gang crimes to the task forces at regular meetings. In Gary, the U.S. Attorney’s Office uses a different coordination technique in which Assistant U.S. Attorneys work directly with each task force and among themselves to coordinate task force operations. Task force managers in Philadelphia, Camden, Chicago, and Gary told us that the involvement of the U.S. Attorney’s Office contributes greatly to the coordination of violent crime task force operations.
Similarly, under the leadership of the U.S. Attorneys, FBI and USMS task force managers in Camden and Gary negotiated informal agreements and use these agreements to coordinate local task force fugitive investigations. Task force fugitive investigations were well coordinated in only these two of the eight cities we visited. In contrast, FBI and USMS task forces in the other six cities did not coordinate fugitive operations, and we found that they sometimes duplicated one another’s efforts in those six cities.
Cooperation on Investigations by Task Forces
The critical factor in achieving cooperation on individual task force investigations is the use of information-sharing systems. While we recognize that it is more difficult to cooperate using the small amounts of information available on particular suspects early in investigations, we found that some task forces used information-sharing systems to identify opportunities to cooperate with other task forces.
DEA task force members routinely enter data into information-sharing systems in seven of the eight cities we visited. ATF, FBI, and USMS task force members do not consistently use information-sharing systems, even in locations that have policies requiring their use. These failures result in duplicate investigations involving the same suspect by different task forces. During our visits to the 8 cities, 128 task force members told us of at least 45 duplicate investigations.
The most common type of information-sharing system used in the eight cities is a local HIDTA system. In three of the eight cities, all four components’ task force members use the local HIDTA system to identify suspects being investigated by various task forces, thereby allowing them to avoid duplicate investigations. In Birmingham, Philadelphia, and Las Vegas, members of the FBI Safe Streets Task Force responsible for fugitive apprehensions do not use the HIDTA system to coordinate investigations. The USMS Regional Fugitive Task Force members use the HIDTA system in only three cities.
The policies requiring coordination of investigations, particularly through the use of the HIDTA information-sharing systems, are different for every component. The components do not have nation-wide policies requiring the use of the HIDTA or any other information-sharing system. Although the DEA has a nation-wide policy that requires the coordination of investigations, it has only local policies requiring the use of HIDTA systems for that purpose. ATF and the FBI have local policies requiring the use of the HIDTA system in five cities each (although not the same five cities), and the USMS has a local policy in four cities. Except for the HIDTA systems, we saw no other information-sharing system being used by two or more task forces in any of the eight cities we visited.
We also found that the Department’s four types of violent crime task forces rarely conduct joint investigations. When two task forces identify a common interest in a suspect, one task force usually stops its investigation. During our site visits, the 128 task force members we interviewed reported 10 examples of joint investigations. The task forces rarely conducted joint investigations even in instances where they worked on similar investigations involving the same suspect. For example, the USMS and FBI task forces that conduct fugitive investigations cooperated with one another in joint investigations in only one of the eight cities we visited. When we asked why task force members did not conduct more joint investigations, the most commonly cited reasons were a lack of trust regarding sharing law enforcement sensitive information (such as the names of confidential informants), potential interference with other investigations, and protection of “turf” from other task forces with overlapping areas of responsibility. Task force managers also pointed out that their task forces are conducting investigations within their particular mission the majority of the time.
Although we did not find that the components often worked together on joint investigations, when they did, we found examples of coordination that proved useful:
In Gary, a fugitive was wanted by the FBI because he was suspected of shooting an Indianapolis police officer. The FBI Safe Streets Task Force and the USMS Regional Fugitive Task Force planned a joint investigation and worked together to complement one another’s efforts. The fugitive was arrested in East Chicago, Indiana, and the Chief of Police praised the cooperation between the FBI and the USMS.
However, even decisions to conduct joint investigations did not always lead to full cooperation. In Chicago, for instance, FBI Special Agents and USMS Deputy Marshals participated in a joint FBI-USMS murder investigation in which the USMS Regional Fugitive Task Force and the USMS Electronic Surveillance Unit were supporting the investigation with electronic surveillance. The supervisor of the USMS Electronic Surveillance Unit stated that he and the FBI supervisor coordinated their efforts but that USMS Deputy Marshals reported that FBI Special Agents working in the field refused to share information during the investigation. FBI task force managers stated to the OIG that the FBI only participates in a joint investigation as the overall lead agency. They also stated that because the FBI is the lead agency, FBI Special Agents share information in accordance with FBI policy.
Event Deconfliction During Task Force Investigations
We believe that the critical factor in event deconfliction is task force compliance with policies mandating the use of a common deconfliction system for every event. Event deconfliction alerts task force members that a law enforcement operation they are planning – such as an undercover operation, surveillance, or execution of a search warrant or arrest warrant – may conflict with another operation planned by another law enforcement agency at the same place and time. Unless all law enforcement agencies operating in a geographic area notify one another by telephone, radio, or through an information-sharing system of their planned events, officer safety can be put at risk.
In all eight cities we visited, DEA task force members deconflict events as required by DEA national policy. ATF task force members also deconflict planned events in all eight cities, although deconfliction is required by local ATF policies in only four of the cities. USMS task force managers have established local policies to deconflict events in five cities we visited, and task force members comply with the policies in those cities. The FBI has local policies to deconflict events in three cities, but task force members consistently comply with the policy in only one city.
The gaps in the task forces’ deconfliction efforts have led to incidents that put officers’ safety at risk, including three blue-on-blue incidents:
In Atlanta, a USMS Regional Fugitive Task Force member told us that he was conducting surveillance in a fugitive’s neighborhood when members of an FBI Safe Streets Task Force, who were also conducting surveillance, pulled him over because he was using a car similar to one associated with the fugitive. The USMS Regional Fugitive Task Force member stated that the FBI Safe Streets Task Force members ordered him to exit his car and identify himself. Neither the FBI nor the USMS requires its task force members to deconflict events, and neither of the task forces’ members voluntarily deconflicted their surveillance.
In Chicago, an ATF Assistant Special Agent in Charge stated that an ATF confidential informant and an undercover ATF Special Agent bought a loaded gun from an FBI Safe Streets Task Force confidential informant. After the buy was completed, the ATF undercover agent was arrested. A few weeks earlier, FBI Safe Streets Task Force members had checked for investigations that overlapped those involving the confidential informant, but had not deconflicted the planned gun sale.
In Las Vegas, the ATF Resident Agent in Charge stated that ATF conducted an undercover firearms operation at a gun show and deconflicted through LA Clear, the HIDTA system that covers Las Vegas as well as Los Angeles County. LA Clear did not identify any potential conflicts. At the show, ATF arrested an individual who made an illegal gun purchase from an undercover ATF agent. The individual then claimed to be an FBI confidential informant working at the show on behalf of the FBI. According to ATF, despite numerous conversations between ATF and the FBI after the incident, the FBI refused to explain why FBI Special Agents had not deconflicted their undercover operation and refused to confirm or deny that the suspect was an FBI confidential informant. An FBI Supervisory Special Agent told us that all agencies are secretive about their confidential informants and that many suspects claim they are confidential informants when they are not.
We concluded that more consistent efforts by the task forces – particularly FBI task forces – to deconflict events are needed to ensure officer safety.
Coordination of Task Force Investigations in Eight Cities
In this section, we describe the coordination efforts of the components and the U.S. Attorneys in each of the eight cities we visited. We describe the level of task force coordination in each city, in order of best coordinated city to least coordinated. In these descriptions, we present information on task force management, cooperation on investigations, and event deconfliction for each city.
The three types of task forces that operate in Gary (DEA, FBI, and USMS) are well coordinated because of the emphasis placed on cooperation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and task force managers.6
Task Force Management – The U.S. Attorney’s Office has assigned one Assistant U.S. Attorney to work directly with each of the three task forces, and the three Assistant U.S. Attorneys exchange information to coordinate task force operations. Unlike in six of the other cities we visited, the FBI and the USMS in Gary have established a fugitive apprehension agreement, and task force members comply with the agreement.
Cooperation on Investigations – Task force managers stated that local policies requiring the use of the HIDTA system to share information prevented duplicate investigations, although we were told of some overlapping investigations. Task force members do not often conduct joint investigations. For example, FBI Safe Streets Task Force members stated that they investigated firearms crimes discovered during ongoing FBI Safe Streets Task Force investigations rather than sharing information and working with the local ATF task force.
Event Deconfliction – All task forces comply with local policies to use the local HIDTA system to deconflict events. Task force members told us there had been no blue-on-blue incidents.
Camden, New Jersey
All four types of task forces operate in Camden. We found that task force investigations are well coordinated.
Task Force Management – Members of all four task forces attend monthly Weed and Seed meetings – sponsored by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Camden County Prosecutor’s Office, and Camden Police Department – at which task force members exchange investigative information to coordinate operations.7 In Camden, the FBI and the USMS have an informal agreement that the USMS will take the lead on fugitive investigations, except for nation-wide FBI fugitive investigations based on federal Unlawful Flight to Avoid Prosecution warrants.
Cooperation on Investigations – Members of all four task forces consistently use the local HIDTA system to share information and identify opportunities for joint investigations. The DEA does this to carry out DEA nation-wide policy. The other three components do not have national policies that require task force members to share information, but local task force managers nonetheless require their members to use the HIDTA system to routinely share information on individual investigations. We found several examples of joint investigations by the task forces in Camden. For example, ATF Violent Crime Impact Team and DEA Mobile Enforcement Team members conducted four joint investigations of suspects involved in both drug and gun crimes. The DEA Mobile Enforcement Team arrests provided evidence and investigative leads that the ATF Violent Crime Impact Team used to develop firearms cases. The ATF Violent Crime Impact Team made undercover gun purchases through two drug organizations, developing intelligence that benefited the DEA Mobile Enforcement Team.
Event Deconfliction – Special Agents, Deputy Marshals, and local police officials told us that they use the local HIDTA system for event deconfliction. Task force members told us there had been no blue-on-blue incidents.
The three types of task forces that operate in Philadelphia (ATF, DEA, and FBI) are generally well coordinated.8
Task Force Management – Task force members coordinate their operations and assign investigations of homicides and aggravated assaults to the task forces best situated to investigate the crimes during weekly meetings sponsored by the U.S. Attorney and the Philadelphia Police Commissioner.
Cooperation on Investigations – ATF, the DEA, and the FBI have local policies requiring the use of the HIDTA information-sharing system, but the USMS does not. Special Agents and Deputy Marshals said they cooperate during individual investigations, but they sometimes duplicated one another’s efforts. For example, the ATF Violent Crime Impact Team and one FBI Safe Streets Task Force, which had overlapping gang investigations, shared information to facilitate gang investigations in Philadelphia’s 12th Police District. In contrast, another FBI Safe Streets Task Force and the USMS District Fugitive Task Force, which both have fugitive apprehension responsibilities, reported several duplicate investigations.
Event Deconfliction – Most of the task forces in Philadelphia have an event deconfliction policy that requires the use of the local HIDTA system. However, the FBI Safe Streets Task Force that focuses on fugitive investigations does not have a policy requiring the use of the HIDTA system and does not use the system to deconflict events. Instead, the FBI deconflicts through the Philadelphia Police Department, from whom the FBI receives its local fugitive cases. The FBI Violent Gang Safe Streets Task Force has a policy and uses the HIDTA system to deconflict events. Overall, most events are deconflicted by using the HIDTA system as local policy dictates, and task force members told us there had been no blue-on-blue incidents.
Los Angeles, California
All four types of task forces operate in Los Angeles, and we found that coordination of task force investigations is mixed.
Task Force Management – We found limited direction of task force operations and target areas by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles. Officials of the U.S. Attorney’s Office told us that they do not need to coordinate task force operations because the task forces all follow the locally agreed-upon policy that requires task forces to use LA Clear for all federal and local investigations. However, one FBI Safe Streets Task Force is not using LA Clear to share information. Yet, an Assistant U.S. Attorney told us that Los Angeles is so large and there is so much criminal activity that “overlaps never happen” and that the idea that there could be overlaps “is an absurd notion.”
Cooperation on Investigations – Special Agents in Charge, the U.S. Marshal, and task force members stated that they worked collegially, shared information, and shared resources with other task forces. However, task force members do not often conduct joint investigations. Task force supervisors and members said that because Los Angeles and its gang problem are so large, each task force has more than enough work and the chance of overlapping investigations is small. Nonetheless, we found some duplication of effort.
Event Deconfliction – Even though there are multiple task forces in Los Angeles – two FBI Safe Streets Task Forces, two DEA Mobile Enforcement Teams, a USMS Regional Fugitive Task Force, and an ATF Violent Crime Impact Team – the task forces’ members stated that because their task forces use LA Clear to deconflict events, there had been no blue-on-blue incidents in Los Angeles.
In Chicago, the DEA, FBI, and USMS operate three types of task forces.9 We found that while task force investigations related to gang crime are well coordinated, other types of task force investigations are not.
Task Force Management – The U.S. Attorney’s Office sponsors monthly meetings to focus task force operations on the investigation of the “Top 20” gang members. Task force managers told us that these meetings contribute greatly to the coordination of anti-gang task force operations. ATF, DEA, and FBI task force managers told us that the components and task force members have developed close partnerships with the local police department and that the local police department serves as a coordinating mechanism for task force efforts. As a result of the “Top 20” meetings and the coordination efforts of the local police, we found little overlap in the anti-gang operations of federal task forces in Chicago. However, we found limited efforts to coordinate other violent crime task force operations.
Cooperation on Investigations – Task force members stated that they are reluctant to work together in joint investigations, and they did not identify any examples of joint investigations. An ATF Supervisory Special Agent stated that his component “did not make a habit out of working with the other federal components.” An FBI Supervisory Special Agent stated, “If I can avoid it, I won’t work any joint investigations with other federal agencies.” The FBI Supervisory Special Agent went on to state that he believed his agency does “10 times a better job” than other components. USMS Regional Fugitive Task Force members admitted that there had been conflicts with the FBI in the past, but they believed that the problems were now “almost non-existent.” However, interviews with FBI Supervisory Special Agents indicated that problems still exist. An FBI Supervisory Special Agent stated that the creation of the USMS Regional Fugitive Task Force had caused “nothing but problems.”
Event Deconfliction – Task force members do not consistently deconflict task force events, despite policies requiring them to do so. Task force members working on gang-related investigations deconflict events, while task force members working on other types of investigations, such as fugitive investigations, do not. An FBI Supervisory Special Agent stated that, despite a local FBI policy requiring deconfliction using the HIDTA system, his task force does not use the system because of the possibility that the case will be stolen. As a result, there was one blue-on-blue incident (described on page xiv). ATF and FBI Special Agents and local officers stated that the blue-on-blue incident showed the need for improved coordination and deconfliction, and an FBI Supervisory Special Agent told us that the FBI strengthened its policy to require deconfliction and reiterated the need for deconfliction to all task force members “to avoid a similar mistake.”
Las Vegas, Nevada
All four types of task forces operate in Las Vegas. Task force investigations, particularly fugitive investigations, are not well coordinated.
Task Force Management – Although the task forces in Las Vegas have overlapping gang missions, the U.S. Attorney’s Office does not coordinate task force operations and instead resolves disputes on an ad hoc basis. For example, when the ATF Violent Crime Impact Team and the FBI Violent Gang Safe Streets Task Force duplicated efforts during gang crime investigations, the U.S. Attorney’s Office decided which investigation had the best chance of getting a conviction and asked that component to take the lead. FBI Special Agents and USMS Deputy Marshals recognized the duplication of effort in fugitive investigations and acknowledged to us that tensions exist between the two components. In addition, the Clark County Sheriff, local police supervisors, and the HIDTA Executive Director stated that the federal fugitive and anti-gang task forces’ operations overlap, which creates a coordination problem.10
Cooperation on Investigations – The cooperation on task force investigations in Las Vegas is poor, and task force managers and members provided several examples of failures to cooperate. ATF, DEA, and FBI Special Agents do not regularly share information on specific suspects under investigation and do not conduct joint investigations. The DEA specifically declines to work with the FBI Safe Streets Task Force because of tensions between the two agencies over previous investigations and disputes regarding the operation of a local intelligence center. However, DEA headquarters reported that the strained relationship in Las Vegas did not directly involve DEA Mobile Enforcement Team operations and that the cooperation level between the FBI and the DEA in Las Vegas is improving. We also found open hostility between FBI and USMS fugitive task force members, with both conducting investigations of fugitives wanted on state warrants only. The HIDTA Executive Director noted the animosity between members of the USMS and FBI task forces and stated that “something must be done to ensure officer safety.”
Event Deconfliction – ATF, DEA, and USMS task force members routinely use the local HIDTA system to deconflict events for all investigations, and members of the FBI Violent Gang Safe Streets Task Force use the local HIDTA system to deconflict events during their gang investigations. FBI Special Agents assigned to the Safe Streets Task Force Criminal Apprehension Team told the OIG that they do not use the HIDTA system for fugitive operations because fugitive operations “happen too fast.” Task force members also told us about one blue-on-blue incident in Las Vegas (described on page xiv).
All four types of task forces operate in Atlanta. Overall, we found that task force investigations are not well coordinated in Atlanta.
Task Force Management – We found limited direction of task force operations and target areas in Atlanta. The U.S. Attorney’s Office holds monthly meetings attended by representatives from all federal law enforcement agencies, as well as bimonthly law enforcement leadership meetings attended by ATF, DEA, and FBI Special Agents in Charge and representatives from the State Attorney General’s Office and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. However, task force managers and Assistant U.S. Attorneys told us that task force operations are discussed at these meetings only in general terms. Task force managers stated that the U.S. Attorney’s Office does not have a significant role in the coordination of task force investigations.
Cooperation on Investigations – Only ATF has a local policy to coordinate investigations, but all of the components said they attempt to coordinate through word of mouth. Cooperative efforts are limited because the local Atlanta HIDTA does not have the capability to support information sharing to avoid duplicate investigations of the same suspect. A HIDTA official reported that he had proposed expanding the HIDTA’s deconfliction capability to include an information-sharing system to help avoid duplicate investigations. However, the FBI declined to participate, and because the HIDTA’s operations require consensus by all law enforcement agencies involved, the proposal was not implemented.
Event Deconfliction – A DEA national policy and an FBI local policy require those components’ task forces to deconflict drug-related events. However, neither ATF nor the USMS has a policy requiring its task forces to deconflict events in Atlanta. FBI and USMS task force managers stated that overlapping fugitive operations among the FBI Safe Streets Task Force and the USMS Regional Fugitive Task Force created a coordination problem resulting in the blue-on-blue incident described on page xiv.
In Birmingham, the FBI and USMS have task forces in operation, and two more task forces were planned – an ATF Violent Crime Impact Team and an FBI Violent Gang Safe Streets Task Force. We found that task force investigations in Birmingham are the least well coordinated of any city we visited.
Task Force Management – We found limited direction of task force operations and target areas in Birmingham. The U.S. Attorney’s Office sponsors only two meetings a year to set priorities and coordinate investigations that could overlap with Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigations.11 In addition, the FBI and the USMS do not work together when establishing agreements with local law enforcement agencies regarding assistance with fugitive investigations. Instead, the FBI Safe Streets Task Force and the USMS Regional Fugitive Task Force have separate cooperative agreements with the police departments in Birmingham and the adjacent suburb of Hoover. At the time of our visit, ATF and the FBI had proposed anti-gang task forces in the same precincts, but were not coordinating to ensure the task forces do not overlap.
Cooperation on Investigations – Although there is a local HIDTA system in Birmingham, task force members do not routinely use it to share information or identify opportunities for joint investigations. Because the FBI and the USMS did not cooperate in establishing the fugitive task force agreements described above, when a fugitive flees from Birmingham to Hoover, or vice versa, the fugitive task force responsible for assisting local law enforcement changes. The U.S. Marshal and the Hoover Chief of Police told us that this arrangement made fugitive investigations more difficult.
Event Deconfliction – Only the DEA has an event deconfliction policy in Birmingham. The local DEA policy mandates the use of the HIDTA information-sharing system; however, the DEA is the only component whose task forces use the local HIDTA system. The other task forces deconflict operations by calling the local police departments individually. One DEA task force officer explained that to deconflict a reverse buy, he had to make 10 phone calls.12 The USMS Regional Fugitive Task Force’s members stated that they deconflict events by running a warrant check and then calling the other components and local law enforcement to alert them to upcoming operations. There were no reported blue-on-blue incidents in Birmingham.
CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The Department has operated 2 or more violent crime task forces with overlapping missions in at least 84 cities without requiring the components to coordinate task force operations, cooperate during investigations, or deconflict events. In August 2005, the Department issued a policy requiring the components to obtain the Deputy Attorney General’s approval to conduct anti-gang programs and activities in new locations. To implement the 2005 policy, in June 2006 the Office of the Deputy Attorney General established a detailed application process for new anti-gang activities requiring support from and a recommendation by the U.S. Attorney for the jurisdiction in which any new anti-gang task forces would operate.
However, outside of anti-gang activities, there are still no Department policies requiring the coordination of the operations of other violent crime task forces. As a result, we found inconsistent and inadequate cooperation and deconfliction among the Department’s violent crime task forces we reviewed. U.S. Attorneys and component task force managers in four of the eight cities we visited do not actively coordinate task force operations. In some cities, task forces fail to use information-sharing systems and, as a result, conduct duplicate investigations. Interviews with Special Agents and Deputy Marshals in six of the eight cities as well as our review of the nation-wide data showed that task forces do not often cooperate in joint investigations. While task force members generally deconflict specific events during investigations, we learned of three serious blue-on-blue incidents that demonstrated the need to improve deconfliction efforts to ensure officer safety.
Our analysis of nation-wide task force arrest data also indicated that the components’ coordination of task force investigations was limited. We found 1,288 arrests had been reported by more than one task force from FYs 2003 through 2005. Only 520 of these arrests resulted from joint investigations, while 768 resulted from duplicate investigations by two task forces.
We believe that the Department should establish policies governing the coordination of all task forces and their operations. Specifically, we recommend that the Department:
Require that the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the components’ task force managers in each jurisdiction with multiple violent crime task forces implement guidance for coordinating task force operations.
Require each component to use national and local information-sharing and deconfliction systems to coordinate investigations and protect officer safety.
Require the components to submit all proposed violent crime or fugitive task forces to an assessment and approval process similar to that used by the Anti-Gang Coordination Committee.
Require each component to examine compliance with Department and component policies on task force coordination during periodic internal management reviews.
See House Report No. 109-272, at 66 (2005).
The 256 cities include the cities to which a DEA Mobile Enforcement Team deployed and the cities in the federal judicial districts in which a USMS Regional Fugitive Task Force operates. See Appendix I for the locations of the task forces as of September 30, 2005.
Each site visit included interviews with law enforcement officials from surrounding jurisdictions. In all, we met with state and local law enforcement officers from 28 jurisdictions.
The HIDTA program was created to coordinate efforts by local, state, and federal law enforcement in specific geographic areas to combat drug-related violent crime. The program also operates information-sharing systems, some of which have expanded from drug-related violent crimes to all types of violent crime.
While our analysis identified a total of 1,949 arrests in which more than 1 component reported arresting the same individual, we excluded 661 of those arrests after determining that coordination had not been needed. This included 277 instances in which two components’ task forces arrested the same individual at different times for different reasons and 384 instances in which the component concluded that the reporting of the arrest to the OIG resulted from a recordkeeping error.
Also in Gary, the ATF operates a violent crime task force but does not have a Violent Crime Impact Team.
Weed and Seed is a Department-sponsored, multi-agency strategy devoted to crime prevention and community revitalization.
Also in Philadelphia, the USMS operates a District Fugitive Task Force, but does not have a Regional Fugitive Task Force.
Also in Chicago, the ATF operates a violent crime task force but does not have a Violent Crime Impact Team.
The Clark County Sheriff heads the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, which is a joint city and county police force.
OCDETF is a federal drug enforcement program that focuses resources on the disruption and dismantling of major drug trafficking organizations.
In a “reverse buy,” an undercover law enforcement officer acts as the seller of drugs or firearms to apprehend suspected drug or firearm traffickers.
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