Task forces are a powerful crime-fighting tool, maximizing the resources of local, state, and federal law enforcement as well as the prosecutive efforts of the District Attorney’s office and the United States Attorney’s Office. There are tremendous benefits in formulating and participating in a task force, but like in any relationship, good communication is a key component of success.
The benefits of a task force include the ability to select the most advantageous federal or state laws under which to pursue prosecution. For example, the federal system has the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) act, which results in lengthy minimum sentences and asset forfeitures. With a task force, it can be determined which venue is most likely to result in a substantial sentence.
As we know, there are investigative techniques specific to local, state, and federal law enforcement officers. Task force members can select those investigative techniques which are likely to produce the best results. For example, state and local officers can conduct traffic stops to obtain additional information on a subject, or a uniformed officer can purport to be investigating a traffic accident. Federal agents have the use of a Federal Grand Jury and are able to obtain information from a Federal Grand Jury subpoena, rather than having to obtain a full-fledged state search warrant. If a search warrant is required, a state search warrant can typically be obtained more quickly than a federal warrant. Also, it usually takes much less time to obtain approval for a state pen register than does a federal pen register.
Federal agents have more leeway to detain subjects. Federal grants and funding can benefit officers in providing the money for training, equipment, etc. Local partners are likely to benefit in the receipt of vehicles, cell phones, overtime, and federal asset forfeiture statues.
The potential negative impact of a task force includes the inevitable learning curve as federal officers learn state laws and procedures and local officers learn the federal system and paperwork. Considerable cross-training is required. This could become a benefit as the officers and agents learn additional tools and venues to assist with investigations. There will likely be differences in tactical procedures and techniques. Federal agencies will likely require a Security Clearance at least at the Secret level prior to permitting task force member’s unescorted access to office space. Security clearances can take months to obtain.
Prior to creating a task force, it is imperative that a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is drafted and approved by all participating agencies. The MOU should contain a mission statement, as well as information about the purpose, composition, duration, operation and other important components. Here we examine some of the ingredients to include in your MOU. What would you include? Add your comments and ideas below.
Why will this Task Force be created? What are its goals? What agencies will participate? Where will the Task Force be located?
The mission of a Task Force consisting of federal partners will typically investigate violations of federal law as they relate to a specific target (terrorism, gangs, crimes against children, etc.), and to prosecute those crimes in both Federal and State Court.
Composition and Supervision
All participants should acknowledge it is a joint operation with all agencies operating as partners. Policy, direction, and responsibility is typically shared and determined by an Executive Committee. The Executive Committee is comprised of Executive Management from each represented agency working together to best represent the interests of the agencies involved in reducing crime. Without support from the highest levels, a Task Force can not be successful.
It is imperative that the team include strong representation from the local United States Attorney’s Office and District Attorney’s Office to ensure all applicable laws and guidelines are followed in the preparation of cases. Active involvement from our legal partners from the outset optimizes prosecutive results.
Supervision of the task force must be determined. An individual serving in a team leader capacity should have the authority to initiate investigations, assign cases, and handle day-to-day supervisory responsibilities. Typically, each agency maintains overall responsibility and performance evaluations of its personnel.
Agencies should select mature, experienced, subject-matter experts capable of working in a team environment with a great deal of autonomy. In addition to having cases assigned to them, team members should have the ability to generate cases for the Task Force to work. It must be determined where investigative records will be kept and what format will be used for reporting. All reporting and intelligence should be made available to all participating agencies. Evidence storage and chain of custody issues must be determined. All law enforcement action must be coordinated.
One advantage of partnering with a federal agency is substantial funding is usually available to pay informants and cooperating witnesses. Officers from local and state agencies typically operate a number of productive informants. The operation of informants must comply with Attorney General Guidelines if a federal agency is involved. Typically one state or local officer and one federal agent are a team and share responsibility for the operation of each informant.
Media releases can be a contentious topic. Media releases should be mutually agreed upon and a united front presented to the press.
The term of the MOU between agencies should be established. As the end of that term approaches, agencies can evaluate the need to extend or terminate their participation in the task force.
Although there are considerable administrative headaches in establishing and maintaining a multi-agency task force, the benefits can be substantial. The primary advantage of any task force is the liaison created with multiple agencies working towards a common goal. Friendships are developed which can continue throughout entire careers, leading to effective and quick coordination of efforts between agencies. Strategic alliance with all of our law enforcement partnership benefits the communities we serve.