Fugitive captures increase in Western Pa. thanks to task force
The Western Pennsylvania Fugitive Task Force has muscled into a force that took 512 suspected killers, sex offenders, gang members and others off the streets in the past year.
“The great performance of the fugitive task force makes Western Pennsylvania safer,” U.S. Attorney David Hickton said Friday.
Allegheny County Sheriff William Mullen agreed, saying that his agency participates in the task force because of its effectiveness.
“I think task forces are the way to go because you’re sharing information,” he said.
The Law Enforcement Agency Directors of Western Pennsylvania presented the task force with one of its team awards at its annual ceremony last week.
Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Michael Baughman said the creation of the task forces nationwide 13 years ago allowed police to capture fugitives faster. One example came in August during the unit’s investigation of a Sheraden shooting in March, in which suspects pulled the victim off a party bus and killed him following an argument.
The local task force arrested the two men suspected of being responsible for the shooting, but also found that two women were involved. They fled to Ohio shortly after the murder.
The local task force called its counterpart in Columbus.
“That day, they had them in custody,” Baughman said.
The U.S. Marshals Service heads up the task force.
The task force investigates fugitives in 25 counties in Western Pennsylvania and has satellite offices in Erie and Johnstown, which have their own task forces. The Pittsburgh task force consists of six marshals, two state parole agents, two Pittsburgh police detectives, one state trooper and one deputy sheriff each from Allegheny and Westmoreland counties.
Between October 2012 and September 2013, the task force arrested 512 people charged with violent felonies, including 71 sex offenders, 54 gang members and 17 homicidesuspects. In the previous year, they arrested 437 people.
Its move in May 2012 from a city-donated space in Squirrel Hill to offices on the first floor of the federal courthouse, Downtown, gave the task force a more secure location, said U.S. Marshal Steven R. Frank.
“They can drive into the courthouse parking and not be seen,” he said.
That’s important because they need anonymity to do their jobs, he said. Its current office is several times larger than the Squirrel Hill location was, said Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Michael Baughman. Frank said they are grateful to the city for the use of the Squirrel Hill location for more than eight years, but the extra room and security is welcome.
The added security means the task force has access to all its files, Frank said. Before, only working files were kept at the office; the rest were stored at the courthouse, he said. The Squirrel Hill site had limited access to law enforcement databases.
“Here we have full access to multiple databases,” he said.
Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or [email protected].