The Witness Security Program (WitSec), was started by US Marshal, Gerald Shur, in the late 60s as a way to get witnesses to testify against high-ranking mobsters and still stay alive. While controversial at the outset, there were enough resulting convictions by 1970 to convince government officials to put money into a formal program to help get dangerous criminals off the streets and disrupt their criminal ventures. As WitSec evolved, the safety of family members became part of the package as well.
Why get protection?
What happens to the witness and the family?
Once the witness has agreed to testify, he/she and the family might be placed in the custody of the Marshal service until the trial comes up – sometimes many months – but this may be the only way to keep the witness alive until the court date.
For high profile cases, the U.S. Marshal Service handles 24 hour protection right up until the testimony, then provides new identities and moves everyone involved to an undisclosed location. This location is known only by a handful of government people. If the location is compromised for whatever reason, the US Marshals will find a new location for the family and begin the process again with new identities and jobs.
Once in the new location, average housing is provided, along with job prospects. The monthly stipends continue until the family can support themselves, usually only a few months. Early in the program, there were few monetary limits which led to abuses of the program by seasoned criminals, but that has changed.
Over 18,000 people have been relocated since WitSec began.
Some have left the program voluntarily, finding it too restrictive, and some of those people lost their lives as a result. It’s not a bad deal for some, because they get a truly fresh start away from a bad neighborhood, but for most, it is a drastic change.
It is possible to get kicked out of the program and it has happened. Returning to a life of crime is cause to get booted out, but the rate of recidivism while in WitSec is less than half that of the rest of the formerly incarcerated population. Less than half.
Interesting note: for criminals that testify and are in jail (or about to go there) when they testify, there is a parallel prison system. If they went into the general population, it would be easy to find them and they wouldn’t last long.
A few States (California, Illinois, New York, and Texas) have Witness Protection Systems of their own, but the protections and benefits are limited and less broad in scope.
Nobody who has followed the federal WitSec guidelines has been killed while under the protection, but it’s not easy to walk away from extended family and friends in the middle of the night, never, ever to see them again. Cell phones with the old names and contacts are gone, losing social media is a problem for some, new identities may mean that new careers must be chosen. A familiar lifestyle must be abandoned.
If given a suitcase and told to pack in 20 minutes, what would you take? What could you leave behind?
Additional information can be found at:
Photo credit: US Marshal Service
In the last post, “What does a U.S. Marshal do?” I listed quite a few of the duties that occupy the days of U.S. Marshals working in the various sections of the U.S. Marshal Service.
Part 2 of the series deals with qualifications needed to become a member of the oldest federal law enforcement agency in the United States.
First and foremost, potential candidates must be U.S. citizens and must be between the ages of 21 and 36. There are exceptions to the upper limit, but they are addressed at the time of application.
Before attending academy training, candidates must:
Minimum Fitness Standards for Men (30-39) in order to pass:
Complete 27 pushups, followed by 36 sit-ups, immediately followed by a 1.5 mile run in less than 13 minutes.
The Superior level is pegged at 51 pushups, 50 sit-ups and that same 1.5 mile completed in less than 9 minutes.
Minimum Fitness Standards for Women (30-39) in order to pass:
Complete 14 pushups, followed by 27 sit-ups, with the 1.5 miles finished in less than 16 minutes.
Reaching the Superior level requires more than 22 pushups, more than 41 sit-ups and the 1.5 mile run to be completed in less than 12 minutes.
The other age charts don’t differ all that much. Let’s face it, if 2-3 pushups more or less would make the difference in your candidacy, you probably aren’t ready yet.
If you are at the minimums when passing the Fitness Test, keep in mind that as an overall candidate, the other parts of your resume will need to be much stronger than at the minimum.
Why is it necessary to be in such good shape? The U.S. Marshals in charge of transporting prisoners or apprehending fugitives will need to work in all kinds of extreme weather conditions. The USA has both Alaska and Florida within its borders, with snowstorms, hurricanes, freezing temps as well as sweltering heat to contend with. At times, Marshals may have to wear Kevlar vests in the heat or resist an assault or run for blocks or be in confined spaces with dangerous criminals…you get the idea.
You’ve passed the initial screening and now it’s time for you to:
United States Marshals Service Basic Training Academy is conducted at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC), in Glynco, GA. The training is tough and since it is experienced in the intense heat and humidity of the world that is Georgia (USA), potential candidates are warned that top physical condition means just that. To prepare for the intensity of the Academy training, potential candidates are warned to start hydrating weeks before setting one foot at the Center. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate, just to stay alive in the brutal summers of the South – forget about all the intense 1 to 10 mile runs combined with workouts, climbing, obstacle courses, and sprints that are coming at unscheduled times during training.
Some of the subjects covered during training include:
There are seven exams given during the 21+ weeks. Each test must be passed with a score of at least 70%. There are additional practical exams scored with a pass/fail.
The subjects covered during training are necessary knowledge that a U.S. Marshal must internalize in order to do his/her job well. Lives depend on doing that job well.
After successfully completing the training program and getting out into the field, U.S. Marshals are required to attend annual training sessions to maintain proficiency in certain areas or to learn new forensic techniques available.
Every six months, re-qualification is required for primary and off-duty handguns, rifles, shotguns, and perhaps submachine or semi-automatic guns if needed.
Once a year, re-qualification is required for batons and stunguns, as well as other non-lethal devices.
After seven years, the Deputy U.S. Marshals attend an advanced basic training session.
Think the training and ongoing retraining is something you could handle? From all reports, the job is an interesting one most of the time. There are reports to file, stake-outs to sit through and occasional boring parts of the work, but although sometimes dangerous, the job of a US Marshal is essential to keep our court and judicial system running smoothly.
For more information, please visit www.usmarshals.gov
Collage of badges edited from the US Marshal website
Middle and bottom badge photos – Wikipedia
The only interaction most people ever have with a Sheriff is if they’re watching the old “Andy Griffiths Show” on TV or are checking out a Western that features a Sheriff who has come to town to save the day. TV/Movie portrayals aside, what does a Sheriff actually do? And how do his duties differ from those of a Police Chief? Are their jobs interchangeable?
I had a chance to sit in on a training class with a Sheriff, and the differences are important.
He/she is usually an elected official and is the highest ranking member of the department.
Sheriffs generally appoint their own deputies and can appoint civilians to be deputies on the spot as needed.
He/she can enforce the law, maintains the county correctional facility, and is sometimes the only law enforcement officer in the county.
He/she transports witnesses and prisoners for county courts.
Sheriffs can serve as tax collectors and therefore, can seize and sell property when taxes are in arrears.
He/she serves subpoenas and civil papers (like divorce decrees or eviction notices, etc.)
He/she decides on and maintains an operating budget.
Every county has a Sheriff, but a Police Department is optional if the county has little crime within its boundaries.
Sheriffs have concurrent jurisdiction within each village, town or city within the county.
The Police Chief
A Police Chief is almost always appointed, and has no hiring/firing powers.
Most Chiefs are selected by the mayor and approved by the city council, but some are hired by a City Manager and some are elected.
A Police Chief has authority only over criminal matters and does not serve papers for civilian cases.
A Police Chief can make recommendations for the annual departmental budget, but does not collect taxes or have control over the actual amount of the budget.
The Police Chief’s authority is restricted to their own town and they are legally civilians outside their town.
In some states, some towns are very small, have little or no crime, and have no real need for a full Police Department. Detectives have nothing to do, so the department might be disbanded for economic reasons. In that case, the Sheriff’s Department would handle whatever crime might occasionally occur.
Candidates have been known to switch from the Sheriff’s Department over to the Police Department, but have to go through the new department’s training program.
State Police have jurisdiction throughout the state.
A Sheriff’s Department has jurisdiction throughout the county.
A Police Department has jurisdiction only within the town lines (unless in active pursuit of a suspect).
If there is a fatal car crash on a state highway, the Highway Patrol handles it, but if there is a felony stop or shooting, then the county (and therefore Sheriff’s Department) handles it.
There are over 3,000 Sheriffs in the USA.
There are three states that don’t have Sheriff’s Departments: Alaska, which has no county governments; Connecticut, where Sheriffs have been replaced by Marshals; Hawaii, where Deputy Sheriffs work for the Department of Public Safety.
I did a ride-along with a Deputy Sheriff out in a remote county one hot summer evening. While we rode on the highway, he explained what he looked for in suspicious behavior of other drivers on the road, showed me how his on-board computer worked while he drove at 65 mph on the highway, kept in touch with Dispatch about a developing hostage situation in the county, and ended the night with an investigation of a possible burglary. He felt that his cases had the same variety as a Police Officer’s and he liked the wider jurisdiction of the Sheriff’s Department.
Spend a similar evening in a Police Officer’s car and while your tour might not take you as many miles, I would bet you might have the same experience – a proud officer explaining a job he loves.