Investigations: Sheriff’s Fugitive Squads

Arresting fugitives is an essential part of the justice system as the Sheriff’s Office is, in essence, the “long arm of the courts.” If a person accused of a crime never appears after entering the system, justice may never be an outcome.

Each Fugitive Squad generally consists of four detectives, a detective supervisor and a uniformed K-9 Unit. The Allegheny County Sheriff’s Fugitive Squads are located in the Investigations Division of the Allegheny County Sheriff’s Office. The primary function of the each Fugitive Squad is to execute criminal bench warrants.

Criminal bench warrants can be issued for various reasons and offenses ranging from bad checks and driving under the influence (DUI) to robbery and criminal homicide. Warrants may be issued for multiple reasons including, failure to appear for any court appearance, violating any stipulation of a sentence or bond, violation of probation/parole, etc.

On a daily basis, detectives gather warrants and compile information on each wanted person. Squads generally gather warrants that target specific regions of the county for that week or several days. The squad then systematically goes to an address and attempts to serve the warrant. A criminal bench warrant enables any police officer to search those places in which a person could avoid apprehension. The performance of the daily search for fugitives often yields firearms and weapons of like, narcotics, cash, stolen property, drug paraphernalia, etc. The discovery of these types of items creates new cases and arrests that the squad handles as the items and situation are revealed. The fugitive squads are also available to assist other agencies with high profile arrests. If another agency requires assistance in capturing dangerous criminals, they may call upon the Sheriff’s Office to assist with such arrests. In addition, detectives also assist local police departments who conduct warrant sweeps in their respective communities.

Although capturing fugitives is the primary objective, the fugitive squad detectives may also be called upon to investigate other crimes. One important function of the Sheriff’s Office is to ensure the protection of the Judiciary and court personnel. Detective deputy sheriffs may be assigned to cases where judge or other court personnel, tip-staff, minute clerk, public defender, assistant district attorney, jurors, etc., were either victims of a crime or the threat of crime exists. Court personnel throughout the country, including judges, have been threatened, assaulted and in some cases murdered. The Fugitive Squads, which primarily consist of detectives not only investigate the crimes against court personnel, but also investigate to prevent these crimes.

Detectives assigned to the Sheriff’s Fugitive Squads do not wear a uniform and they drive unmarked vehicles. The reason for this is to create an element of surprise, as the majority of fugitives attempt to flee. This “element of surprise” affords detectives the opportunity to surround a place of business, an address or an area with little or no detection from the fugitive. These tactics prove to be effective with most of the arrests that are made. Detectives are also utilized during high profile court cases. The plain-clothes detective may be assigned to sit with the crowds as additional assistance, if needed, to the uniformed Deputy Sheriffs assigned to the courtroom. Having plain-clothes detectives in the courtroom adds additional security without a noticeable or intimidating presence. The courtroom is and can be an emotional environment for grieving families or victims on both sides of the case. High profile cases present a formidable challenge to the Sheriff’s Office, as there must be a balance of police interaction considerate of the process that grieving families and victims must endure, but more importantly, that it ensures public safety, the safety of Deputy Sheriffs and court personnel.

Some detectives in the Allegheny County Sheriff’s Office are assigned to Federal Task Forces including the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), District Attorney’s Violent Crimes Task Force, District Attorney’s Narcotics Enforcement Team and the Cyber Crimes Task Force. Several Sheriff’s Offices and local law enforcement agencies are afforded the opportunity to apprehend large scale well-organized criminals and their members of their organizations; it also provides funding opportunities to the departments involved. When a criminal organization is brought to justice, there are generally assets and monies that are seized and/or forfeited that can be used to purchase new equipment for officers, in an effort to keep officers on the cutting edge; a step ahead of the ever advancing and evolving criminal. These confiscated monies and/or assets that are utilized for new technology and equipment are implemented at no cost to the taxpayer.