CLEVELAND - On Friday, dozens of law enforcement agencies, including the U.S. Marshal Service of Northern Ohio, celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the successful Violent Fugitive Task Force at Progressive Field.
U.S. Marshals, local police chiefs and representatives from various agencies first took something of a class photo in the stands, before being allowed to pose for a group photo on the field Friday afternoon. The baseball field is actually a fitting setting.
"We have the bases covered all the way across the board and they're making a tremendous difference together," said U.S. Marshal Pete Elliott.
Elliott formed the Violent Fugitive Task Force in 2003. In that time, the partnerships have grown to 125 agencies and more than 375 law enforcement officers who have helped catch more than 32,000 fugitives.
The office for U.S. Marshals of Northern Ohio is based in downtown Cleveland, but its dozens of Marshals cover 40 of the state's northern counties. The task force makes overcoming that challenge possible.
"We are covered from Akron to Cleveland to Youngstown to Toledo to Mansfield to Lake, Geauga, Ashtabula, down to Canton, and all over the 40 counties of northern Ohio," Elliott said. "Today was a great representation of our partnerships together … I'm very, very proud of the men and women that go out there every day and make such a difference."
Ryan Helfrich is a Deputy U.S. Marshal under Elliott. Being on the streets daily, he said the task force not only makes it easier to track down fugitives, but the fugitives are aware of its reputation.
"It's getting to the point now where they know that there's nowhere they can go, there's nowhere they can hide without us being able to find them and put them where they belong," Helfrich said.
It was a different story before the formation of the task force.
"Before and after, you relied on the local municipality where you were at, and oftentimes they were out on calls and, just like everyone else who called in with an emergency, we would be put on hold and waiting for the next car to be available," said Michael Beebe, the Akron Regional Administrator for Adult Parole Authority. "Now with the U.S. Marshals Task Force and officers from each jurisdiction, the reaction is almost immediate."
Beebe's counterpart in Cleveland agreed.
"It actually reaches outside of Ohio," said Steve Vukmer, Regional Administrator for Ohio Adult Parole Authorities in Cleveland. "We've had guys with warrants here who are picked up in Florida or California, and the Marshals, being a federal agency, are able to locate them quickly in other areas."
Much less challenging for the Marshals was getting them and their partners together for Friday's group photo. Elliott said the Dolan family, which owns the Cleveland Indians, is a large supporter of law enforcement, and were more than happy to open up the field for the milestone.
Jim Folk, Vice President of Ballpark Operations for the Indians, helped arrange the photo shoot.
"To be able to bring them down for the 10th anniversary, and most of these guys have never been on our field before, so it's really a thrill for us and I think a good experience for them as well," Folk said. "The work that they all do is just terrific, and to be able to give back just a little bit, just this small thing, we're just honored to do it."
Elliott agreed that the men and women who have helped make the task force successful are the real stars.
"They're the best. I'm so proud of them. I'm proud to be a partner of theirs and we are one team, across the board and I'm very proud of the job they're doing every single day," he said.
While Friday's celebrating marked a successful milestone for the task force, the Marshals and their partners kept in mind the solemn cause that started their mission ten years ago.
"We started this task force in 2003 in memory of a Cleveland police officer who was slain in the line of duty, Wayne Leon," Elliott said. "We vow as a team every single day to go after violent criminals, violent fugitives, no matter where they run, where they hide, and we do that very, very quickly, and we do that together, and we are making the streets safe."
[Look for Colin McDermott's upcoming web series that will explore the world of the U.S. Marshal Service of northern Ohio.]