The state police and federal marshals are merging their special units that track Arizona fugitives in a move to save money while dealing with the growing number of arrest warrants waiting to be served.
“Basically, it’s getting everyone in one room in one building working together instead of occasionally discussing cases of mutual interest. It’s a great force multiplier,” U.S. Marshal David Gonzales said.
The aggregation of acronyms brings together the state Department of Public Safety’s Violent Criminal Apprehension Team, called VCAT, and the Arizona Wanted task force of the U.S. Marshals Service. The merger formalizes a relationship among agencies to share information and manpower to track the 60,000 wanted fugitives in the state.
The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office and a long list of other police agencies are also involved. The Sheriff’s Office is the repository of all of the warrants in the county, but individual agencies execute them.
DPS’ Violent Criminal Apprehension Team was formed in 2008 in the midst of the ongoing argument over illegal immigration in the state on the order of then-Gov. Janet Napolitano. DPS set up the unit, and $1.6 million was pulled from the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office that was being used to fight human smuggling. The Legislature later gave the money back to the Sheriff’s Office.
But the apprehension team remained and says that since its formation, it has made 730 arrests, clearing 920 felony warrants. DPS says that near the end of March, there were 54,872 felony warrants in Arizona with a little more than 40,000 of them in Maricopa County and 450 to 500 new ones issued every week. The new setup deputizes DPS officers assigned to the combined unit as federal marshals, extending their enforcement range.
Tempe Police Chief Tom Ryff said another goal of the new system is to minimize politics and maximize results. “What this means to the cop on the street is they come to work every day with precise information about individuals who have committed crimes in our community,” he said.
Everyone pays their own way. Gonzales acknowledged that in tough financial times, everyone has “taken major hits to their budgets.” More could be on the way as governments work out their spending plans in the slumping economy.
Gonzales said combining the units should have happened earlier in view of the number of new warrants pouring out of the courts.
“We cannot arrest our way out of this problem.”
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