Dragnet nabs 10,000 fugitives
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- More than 10,000 fugitives from justice have been captured in a nationwide, weeklong dragnet involving federal, state and local authorities, said the U.S. Marshals Service, which led the effort.
Operation FALCON lasted from April 4 - 10 and marks the largest number of arrests ever recorded during a single operation.
Of priority: suspects wanted in homicides, sexual assaults, gang-related crimes, kidnappings, major drug offenses, and crimes against children and the elderly.
The operation captured 10,340 people, of whom 162 were wanted for murder, 638 had outstanding arrest warrants for armed robbery and 553 were wanted for rape or sexual assault.
Also captured were 106 unregistered sex offenders and 154 gang members.
"We will use all of our nation's law-enforcement resources to serve the people, to pursue justice, and to make our streets and nation safer," Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said.
More than 70 percent of those arrested had prior arrests for violent crimes, said Gonzales.
And some were considered especially dangerous. In one case, an armed man was found in a cave under a trap door in his kitchen floor, Gonzales said.
Other fugitives who were caught include operators of two methamphetamine labs and an illegal alcohol-producing still.
Officials acknowledge the decision to provide such a massive show of force at one time was expected to prompt publicity and help highlight the mission.
But they insist the operation was strictly designed to carry out law enforcement objectives.
One federal law enforcement official, who asked not to be identified, expressed surprise at the level of cooperation among the 25 federal agencies and the operation's success.
"We didn't know what to expect, but the response from law enforcement personnel everywhere was truly amazing."
Operation FALCON -- Federal and Local Cops Organized Nationally -- involved more than 3,000 law enforcement officials participating in fugitive searches. As many as 10,000 may have helped at least part of the time, officials said. Five national and 83 district fugitive task forces coordinated raids under the U.S. Marshals Service.
In addition to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the FBI, the Secret Service, even the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development got involved.
Some fugitives relied on housing benefits, others on various Social Security benefits, sources said.
Much of the law enforcement muscle came from 206 state law enforcement agencies, 302 county sheriffs' departments and 366 city police departments.
Officials said fugitives were tracked in every state, in addition to Puerto Rico and Guam.
Gonzales said that the operation demonstrates to victims that perpetrators can be caught and prosecuted for their crimes.
The dragnet coincided with Crime Victims Rights Week.
Congress gave the Marshals Service more money and authority to go after fugitives when it refocused the FBI's mission toward stopping terrorism in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks, said the agency's spokesman David Turner.
Previous coordinated roundups did not involve as many officers or agencies and resulted in arrests in the hundreds, he added.
A comparison with Marshals Service arrests in all of last year gives an idea of the scope of last week's sweep.
In 2004, U.S. Marshals caught more than 36,000 federal felons and worked with state and local authorities to arrest an additional 31,600 fugitives.