Feb 21 2007

Gulf Coast task force registers 845 arrests

Birmingham News

By Val Walton

Birmingham-based federal task force has closed 1,580 cases and arrested 845 people since it was formed in July, including scores of fugitives in Jefferson, Shelby and Blount counties.

Operating in Mississippi and Alabama, the Gulf Coast Regional Fugitive Task Force is responsible for nabbing 53 people wanted for murder, 59 people sought for attempted murder, 60 wanted for rape and 129 who failed to register as sex offenders.

Among its highest-profile cases was the capture of Dedrick Griham, caught hiding in a cardboard box in a West End apartment two days after he escaped from Staton Correctional Facility near Montgomery. He was being held there for violating parole on a robbery sentence after his arrest for abducting a Birmingham lawyer.

The task force, composed of more than 60 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, has operated around the clock to find people evading capture.

"It shows there is strength in unity and community resources to work as one team to attack violent street crime," said Marty Keely, U.S. marshal for the Northern District of Alabama.

Keely said a key to the task force's success is that state and local officers who know their areas have access to federal resources such as federal fugitive investigations.

"They know the hot spots for crime and know the individuals responsible for violent crimes," Keely said of local agencies.

The task force, which was organized by U.S. Sens. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., and Thad Cochran, R-Miss., is led by the U.S. Marshals Service investigative service division.

It includes law enforcement agencies such as Birmingham, Alabaster and Hoover police departments, and sheriff's deputies from Jefferson, Shelby and Tuscaloosa counties. It is able to cross jurisdictional lines and combine personnel to go after the most violent fugitives.

The task force normally gets a call from an agency or department needing help to find a fugitive, Keely said. Its mission is to assist, not take over a case.

"It's immediate," Keely said. "Most are very current cases with some sense of urgency in terms of making immediate arrests."

Shelby County Sheriff Chris Curry, who has a deputy assigned to the task force, said the task force has been productive for his agency, especially in tracking sex offenders who are not complying with laws requiring them to register.

"They have played a major part in getting serious bad guys off the street," Curry said. "It is an active and productive group. It's not bogged down in paperwork and administrative issues."

Jefferson County Sheriff Mike Hale said the task force works without bruising egos because law enforcement officials are pursuing a common goal of getting violent offenders out of the community.

"Whether you work for Fairfield or the Sheriff's Department, the bottom line is in the heart of these officers beats a heart of a servant," Hale said. "These are people willing to put their lives on the line, unlocking the resources for our various offices to keep the neighborhood safe."