Police detective Robert Clark was gunned down by a fugitive from Florida who was wanted for assault and robbery. Hours earlier, he was jailed in Ohio, but was let go because Florida wouldn’t pick him up, says the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in the second of a series. A Post-Dispatch investigation found that authorities have long refused to pick up fugitives who have fled. Even when their warrants are put into national databases and even when police locate them elsewhere, fugitives regularly don’t face justice. Law enforcement officials across the nation acknowledge that their inability or unwillingness to extradite merely shifts the danger to another community.
“It’s a joke really,” said Oregon prosecutor Ed Caleb. “And the joke’s unfortunately on all of us, because these guys know they can just take off.” Cases that make headlines often result in extradition, but other cases never make the cut. Most law enforcement data on fugitives is kept secret by state and federal laws and policies. So the best glimpse of the problem comes from information kept by two federal agencies that provided data: the Social Security Administration and Veterans Affairs. Under orders by Congress, both agencies match their recipient rolls against databases of fugitives wanted on felonies and pass the names and addresses to police. With Oregon’s lack of prison space, authorities usually don’t pursue fugitives facing nonviolent charges, Caleb said. “If he goes across the (state) border, everybody’s glad they don’t have to extradite him back now, because everybody’s so overcrowded,” Caleb said. “It’s really a horrible way to run a criminal justice system.”