We arrived at the federal courthouse in East St. Louis and were quickly surrounded by armed federal agents and local police wearing bullet proof vests. It was our day to tag-a-long with one of the teams in Operation Falcon, a massive nationwide fugitive roundup guided by the U.S. Marshal's service.
Our guide for this adventure was Don Slazinik, the Marshal for the Southern District of Illinois. We loaded out gear into his vehicle and followed the officers as they pursued felons running from the law.
8:30 am. We arrive at a home in East St. Louis. A former full-time Deputy Marshal who works on the team knocks on the front door. Other deputies, afents and police are around the home blocking every possible exit. No one answers the door. Someone inside opens the back door. Most of the team quickly moves there with their hands on their guns, or guns drawn. A few minutes later, the suspect walks by us in hand cuffs.
9:35 am. We arrive at the home of a suspected gang member wanted for theft. An officer beats on the door, yells the suspect's name, but no one answers. They pry open the metal door and prepare to use bash in the wood door. Someone opens the door and a few minutes later the suspect walks out in cuffs.
9:45 am. The team heads to Madison, a small community near East St. Louis, to pick up a mug shot of a suspect.
10:15 am. We arrive at the home of an armed robbery suspect. There's a large rottweiller in the carport. The team is operating under the belief that the suspect is "armed and dangerous." There could be ten officers here. Nearly all of them have their guns out, pointed toward the home. The front door opens. Agents walk inside, interview the suspect's mom and brother, and search the home. They insist the suspect isn't there. Police arrest the suspect's mother obstruction because she allegedly grabbed a Deputy inside the house. As we leave, one team member is concerned the brother will tip off the other two suspects in the case. "If he calls the other two we'll lose them," he tells me.
10:45 am. We arrive at a home listed as the address for one of the fugitives. A plastic crate next to the front porch is filled with beer cans and bottles. The doors are open, the television is on and no one is home. A few minutes later, the homeowner returns and insists that the suspect doesn't live there.
11:15 am. We see three young men in front of a derelict, vacant house. The team pulls over and officers jump out when they see one of the men walk away and appear to throw something. Officers search the three men and run their names through a database of active warrants. One of the guys has a warrant for his arrest. So, he's arrested.
We rode along with Operation Falcon until noon. In all, we witnessed only three arrests, an extremely slow day for them. In all, Slazinik told me that Operation Falcon arrested nearly 400 suspects in the southern Illinois district, including several alleged killers and 15 sex offenders.
Not everyone is a fan of Operation Falcon. Sourcewatch has strongly criticized the claims made by the U.S. Marshal's service. It's clear by looking at statistics from previous efforts that many of the suspects are being picked up for non-violent offenses. But the mission is to get people wanted by the law off the streets, and there's no question that Operation Falcon does that.