(USA TODAY) - Police and prosecutors from Pennsylvania to Florida are reconsidering - and in many cases reversing - decisions to let thousands of felony suspects evade arrest by crossing a state border following a USA TODAY investigation last week.
The newspaper found that across the USA, 186,000 accused felons can escape justice merely by crossing a state line because police and prosecutors don't want to spend the time or money to pursue them into other states, a process known as extradition. Those decisions, typically made in secret, leave crimes unpunished and victims outraged.
LINK: Why some law enforcement won't arrest violent criminals
Many law enforcement officials now scrutinizing their extradition practices said they were surprised at just how often they had been allowing fugitives to get away with everything from drunken driving to rape or even murder.
Prosecutors "need to go back and audit all of their outstanding warrants to make sure this doesn't happen," said Scott Burns, executive director of the National District Attorneys Association, which represents 40,000 prosecutors nationwide. Many have already promised to do just that, he said. "They were mouths wide open at those numbers. They know it's completely unacceptable and they're all in agreement that we should go back and assess."
Reviews are now underway in:
• Georgia: The top prosecutor in Macon said he would ask police to stop marking felony warrants as not extraditable. District Attorney David Cooke said he was "alarmed" to see that police indicated they wouldn't retrieve more than 90% of felony suspects from outside the state. "It did kind of bring an eye-opening to us that now, you know, we'll take a little bit different measure with this," Crawford County Sheriff Lewis Walker said.
• Wisconsin: Officials in two counties pledged to review their cases after they were alerted that some warrants for serious felonies were either marked with a code saying the police wouldn't retrieve the suspects from out of state or hadn't been entered into the FBI's national fugitive database at all. Among the warrants officials promised to change was one for a man charged with raping a woman in a motel laundry room. "This is the type of person we absolutely want back in Portage County to face these charges," District Attorney Louis Molepske said.
• Pennsylvania: Senior prosecutors in Philadelphia are reviewing thousands of felony cases in which they had not sought to pursue suspects once they leave the state. Officials have already approved extradition for "several hundred" felony warrants, Deputy District Attorney John Delaney said. He said officials have also instructed prosecutors to "put a greater emphasis" on seeking extradition when defendants fail to show up for court.
• Florida: The chief prosecutor in Manatee County said he was surprised to learn that police were unwilling to extradite suspects on more than 80% of the county's outstanding felony warrants. He said he would instruct the local sheriff to extradite suspects accused of violent crimes and sex offenses. "We're going to be getting together to strengthen that loophole," State Attorney Ed Brodsky said.
• California: Prosecutors in San Bernardino County are working with police to figure out why FBI records said they would not extradite dozens of people facing charges of sexual assault, robbery, kidnapping and homicide. "Something doesn't sound right," said Christopher Lee, a spokesman for the district attorney's office.
USA TODAY's investigation was reported in collaboration with Gannett newspapers and TV stations, which examined the extent to which local officials were willing to pursue fugitives. To view the series, go to fugitives.usatoday.com.
LINK: Does your local law enforcement chase down fugitives?
The newspaper's findings are "troubling" and illustrate a need for additional federal funding, said Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa. "It's critical that every appropriate step be taken to prosecute these cases and that law enforcement is provided with what they need to do the job."
Burns, with the National District Attorneys Association, said that he needs to "sit down with prosecutors, with law enforcement, with funders, legislators and address this problem because there is no explanation. ... If somebody is wanted for murdering someone's sister, mother, brother, son, it doesn't matter how much it costs. We bring that person to justice."
Contact investigative reporter Brad Heath at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter.com/bradheath.
Contributing: Noah Pransky of WTSP in Tampa; Eric Litke of Gannett Wisconsin Media; Tom George of 13WMAZ in Macon, Ga.; and Andrea McCarren of WUSA in Washington, D.C.