I am so excited to welcome guest Marc Cameron to the blog today. I met Marc at Bouchercon last October and must confess that before meeting him most of my knowledge about the US Marshal Service came from watching the movie The Fugitive. Okay, I also knew they flew on airplanes but that was about it. Marc gave me a quarter-sized US Marshal pin which I’m pretty sure means I’ve been deputized. I now walk a little taller and feel a little tougher than I used too. (I double checked that whole deputized thing with Marc and um, not so much. But don’t mess me with or I’ll whip out the pin.)
What does a US Marshal do and how does it differ from other law enforcement agencies?
The US Marshals Service has been around since George Washington formed it in 1789. In fact, it’s the oldest federal law enforcement agency in the United States. In the early days of the country US Marshals did everything—protected the president, investigated counterfeiters, hunted bootleggers, collected taxes and even took the census. Gradually, other agencies like the Secret Service, Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, Customs, the FBI and others were formed and the deputy US marshals duties evolved into what they are today: Protecting Federal Judges (including Justices of the Supreme Court), transporting federal prisoners, managing the Witness Protection Program, managing seized federal assets, and hunting federal fugitives.
Where some agencies’ authority is strictly proscribed by US Code (like immigration, drug enforcement, customs, etc.) the statuary authority of a deputy US marshal is extremely broad, allowing us to “enforce all federal laws.” This authority allows the Attorney General of the United States to mobilize deputy marshals to assist with a wide variety of federal incidents including Coal Miner strikes, riots (such as the LA riots after the Rodney King Verdict), Operation Just Cause (the arrest of Manuel Noriega) and the aftermath of hurricanes like Andrew or Katrina. Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, US Marshals were the federal agency tasked with spy exchanges on the Glienike Bridge between Potsdam and West Berlin. We are a relatively small agency so deputies are often sent on temporary reassignment to augment areas of the country that need more staffing.
What is the training like to become a Marshal?
Deputy US Marshals go through a stringent background check and physical assessment in order to get hired. Many new hires have law enforcement and/or military experience. Once they are hired, deputy marshal trainees go through a rigorous sixteen week academy at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Brunswick, Georgia. Constitutional Law, arrest procedures, defensive and offensive driving (bootlegger turns, ramming, blocking and pursuit), drug enforcement, and fugitive investigation are covered in classroom and practical settings. There is a sign as you drive on to FLETC that reads: “Role Playing in Progress. If ordered to halt, please comply.”
Marshals Service training is extremely physical with two to four hours of physical training and defensive tactics training every day—with lots and lots of running. There are several indoor and outdoor firearms ranges and many hours are also spent practicing and qualifying with sidearms and long guns, including fully automatic weapons. When I went through training we qualified with the UZI. Now they use an HK UMP or MP5. When I came aboard in 1991 we could carry our choice of sidearm as long as it met certain criteria. Now deputies are issued a Glock pistol in .40 caliber, an AR15 carbine and a 12 gauge shotgun. Some specialties get the UMP or MP5 as well.
What did you do as a Marshal? Have any stories you are willing to share?
I was fortunate to work in several small two-person sub-offices in Texas and Idaho when I started out. Prisoner loads were lower and court was relatively light so we spent ninety percent of our time chasing fugitives—my favorite work within the Marshals Service. I spent three years along the Red River on the Texas side of the border with Oklahoma and four years in the panhandle area of Idaho working from the Canadian Border to central Idaho. Our offices were in Coeur d’Alene, one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.
In 1998 I transferred to Alaska were I served as deputy in charge of the multi-agency Alaska Fugitive Task Force as well as a member of the Tactical Tracking Unit, a rural man-tracking team comprised of specially trained deputies. I eventually promoted to Judicial Security Inspector where I was tasked with the protection of federal judges in Alaska. For the last six years of my career I served as the Chief Deputy for Alaska. I had the most fun though as a POD (plain old deputy.)
Gobs and gobs of stories… Major Fugitive operations all over the US, plenty of bad guys, a handful of bad women, and a couple of hellacious fights—but through it all I was fortunate to work alongside some of the finest men and women on the planet. If I wasn’t writing novels full-time I wouldn’t have retired until they forced me out.
How did you end up becoming a U.S. Marshal? Did you always want to be in law enforcement?
I have wanted to be a police officer from the time I realized that they were the closest thing to Batman there is—fighting crime while wearing a costume/uniform and utility belt. I also wanted to write books. My sweet wife knew of both my dreams and bought me a bullet proof vest and an electric typewriter the first year we were married. Prior to getting a job with the US Marshals I worked as a police officer at a small department near Ft. Worth, Texas. I served on uniform patrol, mounted (horse) patrol, and as a detective, investigating everything from simple theft to homicide.
I saw my first deputy US marshal (other than on Gunsmoke) when I was in high school in Texas. He was a big guy and wore starched jeans, a pressed cotton shirt, a big silver belly hat and a .45 in decorative holster—much like the Texas Rangers I’d seen on TV. He got out of his truck on the courthouse square and put a bag over the parking meter that said “US Marshals Official Business”. I thought that would be a cool thing to have someday… I went on to work several fugitive cases with that same deputy I’d seen in my hometown when I was with the police department. That really got me interested in the Marshals Service. That deputy eventually did my background investigation a few years later when I was hired. One of the best days of my life was when I was finally issued my Marshals Service star badge and the nylon raid jacket with POLICE: US Marshal emblazoned on the back. Sappy I know, but it still gets me when I think about how fortunate I am.
What are three things we should know about being a U.S. Marshal?
There are very likely deputy US marshals operating in your city at some point or another; we’re just quiet so you might not ever even know we’re there—unless you’re a fugitive, then we’ll be knocking at your door in the wee hours of the morning.
We’re with the Department of Justice, but we’re not part of the FBI
Almost every major fugitive operation in the US (and many international investigations) involve the US Marshals because of our expertise. We’re don’t talk much about it though and would generally rather give the credit to the state or local agencies we are working with.
What do people usually get wrong when writing about U.S. Marshals?
Marshals handle the Witness Protection Program (commonly called Wit-Sec or The Program.) Several television shows and movies have actually gotten this right in recent years but I still see shows every year where it’s the FBI running the Program. It’s all pretty hush hush so we really don’t mind if other people take the credit for that either. It helps us do our job if we operate more in the shadows.
Marshal is spelled with ONE L. I am always surprised with how many get that wrong. I have a friend in the FBI who constantly spells it Marshall so I now spell his agency Federall Bureau of Investigation.
Con-Air is run much better and more securely than depicted on any move or television show. Tens of thousands of prisoners are moved around the US by plane, bus, and van every year. The real name for Con-Air is JPATS-Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation System.
Do you use your expertise in your books?
I draw on my experiences as a police officer and deputy marshal all the time—Weapons I’m familiar with, driving techniques I’ve practiced, and fights I’ve been involved in all provide kernels of ideas that I spin into stories—taking certain liberties with the details of course. I was in a fight on patrol years ago in a restaurant kitchen where the bad guy kicked me into the lip of a stainless steel counter. My vest absorbed some of the trauma to my kidneys and I was able to arrest the guy—but I was off work and peeing blood for a few days. Jericho Quinn has a similar fight in Day Zero but he doesn’t make the same mistakes I did and comes through it with less of a problem. I certainly draw from the bad guys and gals I’ve dealt with when I’m writing.
During the early part of my career deputies spent a lot of time transporting prisoners in caged sedans. Since I knew I wanted to write novels, I used this time to chat with outlaws about their lives as I took them to prison. It was like going to school to be a Adventure novelist.
Just after we moved to Alaska I was involved in a foot pursuit after a fugitive in downtown Anchorage. The bad guy ran into one of our local bars that turned out to be a warren of different rooms, some with undies stapled to the ceiling, other with dancing, a Russian-theme, etc. I ended up busting through one door into a dim room where I came upon two girls in skimpy bras having a tug of war with a chain connected to steel hooks that pierced the flesh of their backs. First one to pull the other one across a line in the floor won. I’m not the sort to come upon scenes like this in the normal course of my evenings out, so when I heard on the radio that other deputies had caught my guy, I stood there for a minute and took it in, knowing that I would use it in a book one day. The scene ended up in State of Emergency pretty much the same as I saw it, right down to the description of one of the girls I turned into a villain.
Jericho Quinn and his team are all a mixture of the great men and women I’ve been able to work from the Marshals Service and many other federal agencies. I’m fortunate that I have so much to draw from.
What are you working on now?
I’m always working on a Jericho Quinn book. BRUTE FORCE, sixth in the series, came out in January. I have to turn in #7, FIELD OF FIRE, in March. I already have an idea for #8 and will jump into it once I get my editor to approve it.
Marc Cameron is the New York Times Bestselling author of the Jericho Quinn Thriller series. His short stories have appeared in BOYS’ LIFE Magazine and the Saturday Evening Post. He’s published twelve novels. BRUTE FORCE, the newest Jericho Quinn Thriller, was released by Kensington in January of 2016. Marc is a retired Chief Deputy US Marshal and 29-year law enforcement veteran. He lives in Alaska with his beautiful bride and BMW motorcycle.
Visit him at:
Readers: If you have a question about the US Marshal service, Marc will be stopping by as time allows to answer questions.