U.S. Marshals: Danger and Nuance


The Washington Post describes what it’s like to be a U.S. marshal hunting fugitives, focusing on a 16-member squad. The deputies don't solve crimes, and they don't care whether fugitives are guilty; their job is to find them. They play an indispensable role in the criminal justice system. Murderers, rapists, armed robbers, prostitutes, drug dealers, defendants who skip court dates and reluctant witnesses — deputies chase them all. It’s a dangerous job: two deputies were fatally shot serving warrants last year in Missouri and West Virginia.

Aspects of the job are like what you see in movies like “The Fugitive.” On almost every shift, it seems there is a requisite adrenaline-coursing rush of storming through a door, a high-speed pursuit, the use of high-tech tracking tools, and a good-cop/bad-cop routine that can be just as dramatic as the ones you see on “Law & Order.” The work also is complex and nuanced. As the Post describes it, “it's combing databases to build a dossier on a “bandit,” a term deputies have used to describe fugitives since at least the Wild West era; it's unspooling web upon web of lies; it's carefully finagling information from a fugitives' relatives; it's pre-dawn raids to catch a slumbering fugitive followed by frenetic day-long dashes across the region in search of six more; it's shivering in a stale-smelling government sedan during days-long stakeouts.”

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