Night Pursuit Training 01, police stk

A police vehicle pursues the "bandit car" during night pursuit training held by the Utah County Sheriff's Office on Friday, March 9, 2018, at the Emergency Vehicle Operations Range near Camp Williams State Military Reservation in Bluffdale. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

Almost half of Utah criminal fugitives were involved in violent assaults, drug distribution or sex offenses before evading law enforcement officials, according to a press release from the U.S. Marshals Service.

Last year, 804 individuals known as “the state’s most violent and dangerous criminals” were arrested in Utah, officials reported on Tuesday.

Most fugitives were apprehended in Salt Lake City, West Valley City and Ogden, but investigators made arrests in 71 different Utah cities, 18 different states and internationally.

The record number of arrests was thanks to a unique task force known as the Violent Fugitive Apprehension Strike Team (VFAST). The team is comprised of 18 statewide city, county, state and federal law enforcement agencies, according to the press release.

“If you are a fugitive from justice, hiding in an attic, in the desert, on a campground, in the mountains, on a reservation or anywhere in this state, the Marshal Service and our VFAST partners will find you,” said United States Marshal Matthew Harris in a statement.

However, only three of the fugitives arrested by the task force were in Utah County.

There are currently 90 qualified deputy U.S. Marshals who serve as task force officers with the primary mission to capture state and local fugitives.

Harris explained they are responsible for bringing warrants and cases from the various law enforcement agencies where they serve.

One VFAST member works part-time from Orem, and last year the task force apprehended two individuals in Springville and one person in Vineyard.

There are also more property crimes than violent crimes in Utah County, Harris added, although “it doesn’t mean we don’t have violent fugitives in Utah County.”

The Utah County Sheriff’s Office already operates a Criminal Warrants Unit, he said, meaning warrants for fugitives don’t typically reach VFAST.

Between October 2018 and September 2019, at least 65% of arrested criminals had state or local warrants, officials reported. Almost 94% had a violent criminal history.

“The USMS made arrests from Nevada to the Idaho border, and fugitives were found hiding in more than half of Utah’s 29 counties,” the press release stated.

Task force members also arrested 13 people who failed to register as a sex offender in Utah, including 10 individuals who were charged federally.

Nearly 10% were undocumented individuals who illegally entered the country and committed violent crimes, according to the press release. Among those, 50 individuals were deported once or several times prior.

Other fugitives were apprehended in West Jordan, Midvale, St. George, Kearns and Taylorsville for weapon offenses, robbery, homicide and kidnapping offenses.

So far in 2020, VFAST has arrested 115 people with many warrants from West Jordan, West Valley and the Unified Police Department, the press release reported.

“These deputies and task force members are dedicated public servants, and mothers and fathers in our communities. Many give up traditional home lives, missing family dinners, children’s extracurricular activities, and other family events to ensure that our communities are safe,” Harris stated. “While this work can place additional stressors on the family, these women and men are steadfast and determined to keep our communities and their hometowns protected from the most violent among us.”

Last January, officers with the Orem and Provo police departments attempted to arrest Matt Frank Hoover in a business parking lot in Orem. He was serving felony probation for joyriding at the time.

He was charged with shooting and killing Master Officer Joseph Shinners during the attempted arrest.

Ashley Stilson covers crime, courts and breaking news for the Daily Herald. She can be reached at 801-344-2556 or astilson@heraldextra.com.

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