Q: What is a Federal or State Task Force?
A: A task force is an established group initiative that is comprised of multiple law enforcement agencies of varying jurisdictions and investigative specialties, that collaborate to target specific criminal activity in particular geographical area.
Q: Why do we need task forces?
A: Each task force was created to tackle certain criminal activities that plague our neighborhoods and communities. However, it is known that criminals pay little attention to jurisdictional boundaries and conduct their activities wherever it is most advantageous for them to do so. County lines, State lines and even National boarders, don’t stop criminals from wreaking havoc in our local communities.
Q: What types of crimes do task forces investigate?
A: There are a multitude of different task forces that deputy sheriffs are assigned. Some of these task forces attempt to disrupt and dismantle violent criminal enterprises, gangs and organizations, others focus on the opioid epidemic; tracking overdoses and the drugs and dealers that caused them. Some other areas of focus include, but are not limited to; Narcotics and Firearms Trafficking, Bank Robberies and other significant crimes of violence, Mass Shooting Events, Kidnapping, Violent Crimes Against Children, Child Exploitation, Production and Possession of Child Pornography, Human Trafficking, Most Wanted Fugitives, Terrorism, Cyber Crimes and many more.
Q: What authority does a deputy sheriff have as a Task Force Officer?
A: In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Allegheny County Sheriff’s Deputies are trained and certified under ACT 2 and ACT 120 dually designating them as Sheriff’s Deputies and as Police Officers. When a Deputy Sheriff is assigned to a particular task force, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is signed and authorized by the sponsoring agency as well as the hosting agency defining the new task force officer’s responsibilities and expectations. Once a candidate has been chosen to serve in this capacity, they are then Deputized by the United States Marshal Service to enforce the United States Code and federal statutes. This gives the Deputy Sheriff the authority and jurisdiction to conduct investigations and enforce the law, at the federal level, in their capacity as a Task Force Officer. The deputy sheriff is always a full-time employee of the ACSO and maintains their original authority as deputy sheriffs.
Q: What is Criminal Asset Forfeiture?
A: Simply defined, Criminal Asset Forfeiture is the loss of a criminal defendant’s rights to tangible property which has been confiscated by the government when the property was determined to have been used in the commission of a crime or is the proceeds of the crime.
Q: How is Criminal Asset Forfeiture beneficial to public safety?
A: Historically, Criminal Asset Forfeiture has been a tool used by governments since ancient times when piracy was the primary problem of the day. To defend against piracy, governments would seize pirate vessels and the property in their possession. This action was an effective deterrent for offenders as well as others considering the practice. Taking control of their means to conduct criminal activity significantly lessened the likelihood for recidivism; Take away the pirate ship, less pirates on the open ocean. Similarly, and in modern times, the practice has been employed to disrupt criminals who in the course of their conduct bring great misery to their communities as they prey on the vulnerable for financial gain. Examples would be organized crime, drug dealers, white-collar crime, and terrorism.
Q: How does Criminal Asset Forfeiture apply to Task Force Officers?
A: On occasion, task force investigations involving large scale, violent, criminal enterprises come to a close. Some of these long-term investigations may yield a handful of arrests and search warrants, while others may have up to 50 or more indictments. When take down day arrives, the search warrants are executed and the arrests made leaving the tangible remnants and proceeds of the criminal activity behind. Large quantities of cash, vehicles, jewelry, houses and other tangible property that had been acquired by illicit activities or in the furtherance of criminal activity, these items are seized and documented as part of the criminal case. Each defendant has the right to contest the seizure of these items, however, once a criminal case has been adjudicated and/or a defendant pleads or is found guilty and is sentenced, the assets that had previously been deemed as evidence are often forfeited to the government. The Department of Justice is then authorized to disperse the funds, at certain percentages, to the agencies who were involved with the case based upon their level of involvement.
Q: How is Criminal Asset Forfeiture used and where do funds go?
A: Once the funds have been cleared by the Department of Justice, a check is issued to the Sheriff’s Office. The amount of each check may significantly vary, as does each case. Some of the varying amounts are dependent upon the amount forfeited and the role our investigators had in the process. The forfeiture funds received are may only be used to purchase law enforcement related equipment, to fund certain training for deputies, and to supplement the cost of other necessary law enforcement activities and needs. Outfitting deputy sheriff with the equipment needed to properly perform their duties is not a cheap task and the majority of those costs generally fall on county taxpayers. Outfitting deputy sheriffs with protective body armor, or providing them with medical supplies such as AED’s, other medical supplies and kits, and outfitting them with other various protective equipment. When these monies become available, less burden is placed on the county for funding, and thus, less tax money is utilized.
Q: What are the benefits for the ACSO to be involved in a Task Force?
A: Each task force is slightly different than the next particularly due to the types of crimes they investigate. There are multiple benefits for local law enforcement to be active members of federal and state task forces. One of the reasons is the professional relationships that are made opening doors to a multitude of other opportunities, networking, training and support. Task forces create a web of investigators, that cross many lines of jurisdiction, from coast to coast who can call upon each other for assistance when needed. In many instances, local law enforcement does not always have the means for certain equipment and access that would further their mission in fighting crime. A clear benefit to task force involvement is that it keeps some of our deputies on the front lines of law enforcement and at the cutting edge of investigations.