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The U.S. Marshals service arrested no less than 73,000 fugitives in 2023. And it concluded a multi-agency operation focusing on violent fugitives and drug pushe...

The U.S. Marshals service had a busy year, arresting no less than 73,000 fugitives in 2023. And it concluded a multi-agency operation focusing on violent fugitives and drug pushers that had 600 arrests alone. For an update, the Federal Drive with Tom Temin talked with Ronald Davis, the director of the U.S. Marshals Service.

Interview Transcript: 

Tom Temin And I want to start with that number of 73,000 fugitives. Was that up from the year before? What are the trends here in arrests that you are obligated to make every year?

Ronald Davis So that would be slightly down. But I think for us, Tom, we look at what the 73,000 represents. So for example, in that number is close to 6,000 homicide suspects, some 10,000 people associated with gangs. And and equally important is that number represents really great coordination with our state and local partners. In other words, it is really data driven. We’re focusing on, as you may have heard the attorney general talk about, focusing on the drivers of violent crime that the most committed is a handful of people that are exacting a lot of violence, terrorizing the community. So we work with our state locals to target them so that we can remove them when they have warrants from the community. But I look at that number, I just see a lot of great work that the deputies and our task resources are doing.

Tom Temin And how does the decision get made as to who does an arrest in a given case? Why the US Marshals Service and not the New Hampshire State Police, for example?

Ronald Davis That’s a great question. Since 2000, there was an act passed, a presidential threat act that gave us authorization for the analysis Marshal Service. And the key word is to assist our state local partners with the execution of their warrants. And so that request comes from a local agency. It would be that local PD, that state police, that you’d be working in partnership with us on a daily basis anyway, saying these are the warrants we would want your assistance in. And a part of that, Tom, as you know, a lot of crime down, especially those that are trying to evade, capture, respect no boundaries. So they’ll move and hide all over the country and the globe. And they know we have the resources to track them across the United States. And we have tentacles all over the globe so that we can find them. So it starts with the local agency asking us, Will you help us with this warrant? And then we basically partner with them to find that fugitive.

Tom Temin And how do the cases get divided up, say, between immigration cases where it would be [Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)]. And some communities don’t cooperate with ICE versus the Marshals Service, because any of these gang members, you mentioned 10,000 of them. We know that among the people coming illegally, there are some gang members in there.

Ronald Davis So we don’t track our fugitives, our warrants for that based on immigration status. So, for example, if the local PD says they’re looking for a homicide suspect, what we would focus on is that the person is one of for a homicide suspect who he or she is, and then start the investigation to find that. But it’s not based on immigration status. I think for us, we just don’t track that number. We track the offense, and if the agency is asking us for assistance for that clearance, we will then help recover that fugitive.

Tom Temin All right. And when you do arrest someone, where do they go? Do they go to federal facilities or to the local or state facilities? What happens to them when you nab somebody?

Ronald Davis So a little bit of both. We have two types of warrants that we would serve the federal warrants are those that we are by statute are mandatory to execute on behalf of the court. So the court issued a warrant, a federal warrant, and then the Marshals Service helps retrieve those fugitives or apprehend them. And then we would bring them to federal court where they would then be in our custody. And so some type of adjudication of the case. For the local estate, it depends. If we find them in a local community, we would turn them over to the local agency, do an investigation of the local jail so they can be processed through the state. If they’re in a different state, then we would put them at the local jail in that state, and then it’s up to that agency then to work out the extradition between states. So pretty much if I were to summarize it, our local state warrants go back to the agency that issued the warrant, and the federal ones would come into the custody of the United States Marshal Service in the various facilities that we have around the country.

Tom Temin It sounds like this can be dangerous work, because you’re not arresting wallflowers that go willingly all the time.

Ronald Davis Yes, it’s dangerous in a sense that, you’re right. When you talk about 6,000 homicide suspect, robbery suspects, people involved in narcotic trade. Unfortunately, that’s a lot of high risk activity. And recently we just did a three year review of our officer involved shootings, our deadly encounters. And during that period of time, we had 47 times, 47 separate incidents in which deputies, task force officers were shot at came under gunfire. I’ve been the director for two years, a little bit over two years now. And maybe two weeks from now, I will visit a sheriff’s deputy that was shot and injured, and that will be the eighth task force officer, deputy or local officer that I will visit as a director that have been shot and wounded in the line of duty, executing the warrants or the marshals mission. So it is very, very dangerous. It is therefore as a director, my number one priority is to make sure that the also safety, morale and wellness is there because our deputies and our admin professionals, we cannot take care of the American people if we don’t take care of them first. And I think we have to make sure that they are safe, strong, well and supported in order to serve the American people.

Tom Temin We’re speaking with Ronald Davis. He’s director of the U.S. Marshals Service. And what are some of your HR challenges? Different agencies have problems hiring people, retaining people. What’s it like for the Marshals? What are your priorities there?

Ronald Davis So I think it’d be fair to say that recruitment is a little bit more challenging today than it was when I first came in, some years ago. I’m an age myself, and I became a cop in 1985 in a beautiful city of Oakland. But although with the challenges, we still have a pretty high interest. People still want to be a deputy U.S. Marshal. They want to be part of a Marshal family. Our retention is very good. They’re people once they come here, they’ve become part of their family. And many, not most will retire. I think the challenge for us moving forward is making sure that we stay attractive to a new generation, making sure that we can respond to the needs of a new generation, making sure that the agency maintains a high quality candidate, a very diverse candidate pool that we should take advantage of, and making sure that we’re prepared for the challenges of tomorrow. If there was one thing that frustrates me the most, Tom, would be we do sometimes move at the speed of government, which means we can go relatively slow. And so we always are looking for ways to make it more efficient, but we have to do so without compromising the vetting process or the quality of deputies we’re bringing in. We have the most bright, intelligent, critical thinkers in the profession, and I don’t want to do anything to compromise there. So that does take time. But other than that, I think we are doing well. We are hiring, we are reducing our vacancies, and we are continuing to build a workforce that is doing a tremendous job.

Tom Temin And one increasing demand on the Marshal Service has been to guard judges, because I guess it’s a sign of some larger ill in society that judges are less safe than they used to be. And there’s been some lurid incidents there. And what’s your sense of what’s going on there? And then I have a follow up question on law enforcement itself.

Ronald Davis So the current threat environment, I just recently had the ability to speak in front of our House Judiciary Committee, the Subcommittee on Crime and Surveillance, and I’ll share with you what I shared with them. I am deeply concerned about the increases of threats against our judges and court officials. In fact, over the last three years, it has more than doubled. The concern is such that I would have to say that the current and evolving threat environment constitutes a substantial risk to our democracy. We cannot have a judiciary that cannot operate independent and operate under the threat of violence. And so it is a top priority. We are now putting more resources to attack this than we have in most people’s memories that been here, because it is that critical to our democracy. And so it is more than double, it’s problematic. And what we’re seeing with the nature of it is also concerning, is that we’re seeing more and more people are resorting to either violent rhetoric or actually acts of violence because they’re opposing a court decision, an opinion of government action. And I’m just going to kind of paraphrase Dr. King, if I may. It seems like we have not learned how to disagree without being violently disagreeable. And we need to get back to some levels of civility. We need to get back to acknowledging that words matter, especially for those people that carry influence to others. The comments made, even if they’re not threats themselves, but their violent rhetoric, they’re targeting individuals. Sometimes people act by themselves to take that on, and it turns into threats and violence. So it is a top priority for the Marshals Service.

Tom Temin And I think it’s fair to say that in the last few recent years, there’s been a terrible ammunition of respect for law enforcement itself in the country. You say you became a cop in ’85? Well, I’m quite a bit older. And I remember if the cop looked at you cross-eyed, you pulled your car over in town because he’d call your dad if you were speeding. That type of thing. But how does that affect the Marshal service? And what do you see the trends in police respect and law enforcement respect.

Ronald Davis So I’ll start with the safety part, if I may. I have definitely seen an increase in assaults and attacks on law enforcement. I think we’re seeing that across the board, although we are starting to see some promising declines over the last year or so, but we’re starting to see it. We definitely see an increase over the past few years, and this is why we have to invest heavily in also safety and training and equipment and technology, not always possible to make it safer to reduce that risk. We cannot eliminate the risks. And I think our deputies and law enforcement officers all over the country acknowledge the inherent risk that goes with the job. But we can do everything in our power to reduce that risk and mitigate the risk, if you will. Regards to respect, I think what that offers right now is not a just a challenge, but I was submit that it offers a unique opportunity. There’s opportunity for us to engage our communities, to show our communities what value we bring to them, how we can enhance community safety, the quality of life and the partnerships that we can restore that kind of relationship that automatically garners the respect that I think everyone wants. Whether you’re from a community where you’re not a person officer. And I think the more we engage, the more we get to know each other. And I would just say this to the American people, the more you get to know my deputies, you’ll have respect for them, you love them because they’re men and women who are just really committed to trying to help others, and willing to sacrifice things that most of us are not. We have to have that engagement for people to see that. So when people talk about that, the relationship now or the kind of the negative atmosphere around law enforcement, I’m a push and say that may be true, but there’s an opportunity in there, an opportunity to really start establishing strong relationships in the community.

Tom Temin And how often do the various federal law enforcement components get together and exchange best practices? I’ve lost track of how many federal law enforcement agencies there are, but lots of agencies have their own. And then there’s Marshals and Border Patrol and so on. Do you all have a forum by which you can exchange best practices?

Ronald Davis Let me start with the Department of Justice. I would say yes. So my esteemed colleagues, that in the Department of Justice would include, obviously the DEA, the ATF, the FBI, Bureau of Prisons. But we also have partners with Office of Justice programs, the Cops office, Criminal Division. So I think we come together regularly to talk about, one, what’s happening around the country that we’re targeting using our resources based on data and embracing those evidence based programs. Two, that what trends we’re seeing. So a trend, for example, for DEA with fentanyl poisoning may impact violent crime in an area which may impact the need for us to run an operation to support that. So we’re always linking. And the same thing with ATF, is to make sure as we recover 6,000 firearms, when I say local partners that they’re all being entered into the national tracking system, that we’re the left hand talking to the right hand, that we become complementary to the law enforcement picture, if you will, around the country. So we do that, and we also do that across the department. So we do have a lot of engagement with DHS, the Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations, Customs and Border Protection. I don’t want to miss people, ICE. I think there’s always room to engage more, but I think we are really committed across the board to communicate, to coordinate so that we’re force multipliers and not redundant or competitive. Hopefully that makes sense.

Tom Temin Sure. And in an earlier stint at the Justice Department, you had to do with the Cops program, the community oriented policing, types of initiatives that were going on. And fair to say that federal law enforcement practices can often be models for those at the local and state level.

Ronald Davis In many cases, it can be. We invest in good policy research and practices, and what the Cops office can do is not just what we can model to federal government, to federal agencies, which I think we do a great job. But how you can also learn what are the best practices throughout the 16,000 local, state and tribal law enforcement agencies so that if we embrace a decentralized model of policing in the United States, then not everyone is going to have the capacity to have a research and development vision, a small agency, but a cop’s office, the Office of Justice programs that can learn that a program in Oakland. I’m a pick. Oakland, obviously. Oakland, California may help out a city in Texas and that you can do the research, make sure it’s evidence based and we can share that information. That way we are, for example, the lessons learned for apprehending 73,000 fugitives. And over the last four years, over a quarter of million fugitives, those lessons learned can turn into outstanding training and tactics and investigations. So we have a center for excellence, also safety and wellness. So all that can be put into so that we keep learning as a profession, not just the federal government, but our local state partners. And that’s really important time when you have the model that we have, so that local communities may have only five officers, but they should be able to tap into the collective knowledge of all 16,000. What if collective knowledge of billions of dollars of investments over 50 years of research and development? That’s how we maintain our profession.

Tom Temin And I wouldn’t want to let you go without talking about the latest kind of big gambit that just concluded a couple of weeks ago, Operation Wash Out, and we should say Wash Out is two words, not washout. And you arrested 600 people. But this was a big interagency effort. Just give us the a quick story of what happened there.

Ronald Davis So Operation Wash Out is one of several fusion investigation operations we run. We have Operation Wash Out, which is this one which you’re talking about was a 12 city operation that resulted in over 600 apprehensions, strong partnership with the DEA was based on a lot of drug offenses and fentanyl poisoning. We have Operation Triple Beam that sometimes includes more cities for an extended period of time. We have Operation North Star that are very specific targeting cities with the highest level of homicides or homicide rates. So these operations are tremendous because a couple of things are required. They should be data driven, the strategy should be part of a larger evidence based strategy. They require a strong partnership with the local, state and tribal partners that all of them require community engagement. And I think we are then focusing on those that we believe about the drivers of crime. And that would be part of the attorney general strategy. And that means good coordination, not with just our law enforcement agency, but also our prosecutors, U.S. Attorney’s office in many cases are really the main coordinators for this in the district. And they also do a tremendous job.

Tom Temin Anything we can anticipate coming up, where are you going to? I guess you can’t really signal where you plan to concentrate.

Ronald Davis I’m going to give a pretty loud signal, because I want our judiciary to know this. I want the American people to know this. We are going to continue to focus heavily on judicial security. Our democracy demands that we protect a third branch of government. So we will do that. And as mentioned, we will always be there to contribute towards violent reduction. So it is our goal for 24 to enhance our ability to provide security for the judiciary, to increase our capacity to take more and more warrants from our state local partners. And then the other one is to make sure that I don’t have to visit any more deputies or task force officers that are shot and wounded, so that we will make a heavy investment on time and resources, and making sure our deputies and our personnel are safe. And I think those three things, if we achieve that in 24, then the agency will had a very good year. We will continue the historic success of the United States Marshal Service.

Tom Temin And just another question on that other branch of government, Congress. Nobody has their 2024 appropriations as we speak, and Lord knows when they will. But in general, do you feel that you have the resources you need? What would you ask for if you could increase resources? What are the priorities for what you need in funding.

Ronald Davis The 24 priorities we have as outlined in the president’s 24 budget. And I think that budget captures the resources that we’ve asked for to look at the growing and evolving threat picture. So Congress has that budget. They’re going into the budget process right now. I think when we do get a budget, the challenge that any director or leader is going to be to work with the budget you have to prioritize to make sure that those priorities are met. So as we move forward, the additional security that cannot be lessened. We have to continue down that road.

Tom Temin Anything else we need to know about the Marshal Service before we let you go?

Ronald Davis No, I was kind of close with this. I’ve been in law enforcement now for, as you mentioned, since 1985. And I would say in this agency, it is a tremendous agency. I think sometimes people I appreciate the opportunity to talk about us. People don’t really appreciate everything that we do. They know about the Fugitive because we have some good stories to tell. But I don’t know if they realize additional security. And I like to capture us in some simple terms. It’s besides protecting our judiciary, we have this very unique picture, if you will, that we are one hand responsible for tracking down the most heinous violators in our country. And at the same time, we’ve been authorized, we now helping to recover our most precious. Because we have operations now and authority since 2015 to help locate and recover missing, endangered children. And so when you look at those two missions, you look at the idea of removing those who are causing issues in our community and then recovering our children that are in many cases exploited, that are victims of trafficking. I think that kind of captures just how important this agency is to the American people, in addition to protecting third branch of government. So any opportunity to shed a light of what we do. Any opportunity for me to brag about the men and women of this agency is always appreciated.

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