Late on a December night, a dozen Utah Department of Corrections (UDC) Adult Probation and Parole Agents huddle around Agent David Jones in the back parking lot of a small Orem, Utah church. Their flashlights point at a packet of information about a wanted fugitive as Jones explains their tactical approach to arrest him at his home.
The agents are part of the Region 4 fugitive recovery team, which is one of five UDC teams in the state. Once a month the team conducts a coordinated operation in an attempt to round up Utah County’s most wanted.
“We need two people on this street while our team goes to the front door to knock,” Agent Jones explains as he points to daylight photos of possible exit locations on the offender’s property. “Watch here and here, because there is a backdoor and a garage where he can leave.”
Jones has researched this fugitive, who fled from probation, and knows his potential locations, associates, criminal history and possible behavior. Every person they are looking for on this warrant sweep has failed to report for supervision and has an active warrant for his or her arrest.
“We’re aggressive with our efforts to find people on fugitive status,” said Supervisor Annette Velarde. “People forget that we have a lot going on in the rural areas and there are people out here who pose a real threat. It’s our job to find them to keep people safe.”
The team prioritizes their efforts, knowing that they have limited time to use the cover of darkness the evening provides. In collecting information about each fugitive, the agents are trained to look for history and try to anticipate if he will run when approached, or if he’s likely to turn himself over without a struggle.
But they never know exactly what will happen once they knock on his door.
“We go into these situations knowing they are dangerous,” said Agent Kyle Groves. “That’s why we prepare and go over the details, like if they have weapons charges, or if they’ve assaulted law enforcement in the past. We’re ready for anything.”
Before they head out on the warrants sweep, they meet as a team at the AP&P Provo office. Supervisor Bart Mortensen and Velarde review safety precautions and remind the team that these offenders pose a danger to public safety. Because of their 18-month commitment to the fugitive recovery team, the agents have received extra training in tactical situations such as high-risk entries.
The twelve officers will pair up and split into six vehicles. They’re joined by two supervisors in an “ambulance car” with the main purpose of standing ready to dash an agent to the nearest hospital if something goes wrong. There’s also a dispatcher, who is back at the office communicating with each car, local law enforcement, and is running license plate information.
“He has to keep a really clear head,” said Annette Velarde. “But without him, the teams couldn’t do their job. He provides critical, information as we’re out there.”
They sync radio channels and debrief before heading out on the first of seven planned arrests. They start around 6 p.m. and it’s not uncommon for the team to work well into the morning hours. In preparing for the fugitive recovery night, and throughout the evening, agents reach out to their law enforcement partners for support and information. The partnership with allied agencies is critical to AP&P’s success, according to Velarde.
While finding and arresting fugitives is essential to keeping the public safe, it’s only one side of the job. Agent Groves says that working on this fugitive team has also made him a better case manager for the offenders on his caseload.
“You get better information and know where to look for things in the case file that might cause someone to mess up on supervision,” said Groves. “I can work with the person to make sure they’re avoiding situations and that would get them back in prison.”
Each of Utah Department of Corrections’ five AP&P regions has a fugitive team and conducts similar operations throughout the year in every corner of the state. Teams across the state arrest an average of 60 fugitives each month.