In Canada, the saying goes, the Mounties always get their man.
Here in the United States, the authorities too often can’t be bothered.
More than a million criminal suspects — from traffic violators to alleged robbers, rapists and even murderers — are actually unwanted by law enforcement.
All they need to do to escape trial and punishment is cross a state line or, in some cases, a county line, a USA Today investigation found.
In little-known law enforcement databases, some suspects are designated as immune from extradition because police and prosecutors don’t want to spend the time or money to retrieve them. Even if suspects are picked up in another jurisdiction, authorities where they were initially charged won’t come get them.
More than 186,000 felons have escaped trial this way, leaving a trail of unpunished crimes. Sometimes they rob, assault or kill again, reporter Brad Heath found. Lamont Pride, wanted in Greensboro, North Carolina, had a no-extradition designation from authorities there when he was picked up on a drug charge in New York in 2011. Little more than a month later, Pride shot and killed a New York City police officer during a botched robbery.
Despite the attention that killing garnered, do-not-extradite practices remain widespread.
Last week, Heath reported that authorities in three states — Michigan, Nevada and New York — have designated nearly a million misdemeanor suspects as not worth retrieving, sometimes from as close as 25 miles away.
The bulk of the crimes are minor, but not always. In the Las Vegas area, misdemeanor suspects include 6,500 charged with assault or battery and 300 repeat drunken drivers.
One suspect is Edgardo Martinez-Tapia, who allegedly took a joy ride with a 17-year-old friend hanging onto the slick, covered bed of his pickup. The teenager was flung off and killed. North Las Vegas police designated Martinez-Tapia as a suspect they would travel only to the county line to pick up, and he remains free.
Jack Manning, head of a small force that tracks suspects wanted by the Las Vegas municipal court, told Heath the failure to pursue scores of suspects “really does come down to cost.” His 20 officers provide security for the courthouse and are responsible for serving more than 117,000 outstanding warrants.
The criminal justice system is overburdened and often underfunded, but that’s no reason to designate easily seized fugitives as not worth retrieving because they are too far away.
Some states have streamlined the process. In Massachusetts and North Carolina, arrest warrants generally are good across the state. Police can take fugitives to a local judge instead of requiring officers from across the state to retrieve them.
Police and prosecutors need to press lawmakers to enact such creative solutions. And if lawmakers want suspects pursued, they ought to supply the necessary funding and a simplified extradition process.
The alternative makes criminal charges meaningless, gives offenders a get-out-of-jail-free card and leaves suspects an opportunity to commit more crimes.
— LIVINGSTON DAILY PRESS AND ARGUS