Escape From New York: When Life Imitates Art

Over three weeks ago, two convicted killers staged a movie-like escape from the Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York. The escape and the series of events that followed initiated a massive law enforcement response to track down these fugitive prisoners. Ultimately, good triumphed over evil and both men were caught, but unfortunately one lost his life in his efforts to elude the authorities. Recently our culture has made it fashionable to criticize law enforcement for a variety of perceived indiscretions. Candidly, some of this criticism is warranted, but what most people fail to realize is that a law enforcement officer is the first person they would turn to in a life or death situation. Much of what these professionals bring to each situation is the skill and experience to lead a complicated investigation that in this case ended with two extremely dangerous criminals taken off the streets and no longer posing a threat to society.

If I Wanted Your Opinion, I Would Ask For It

Initially, the only “capturing” in this case had been done by the national media spotlight. As this entire drama played out, every talking head on every news talk radio and television medium did not hesitate to offer up his or her unsolicited and unfounded opinion. Interestingly, the (uneducated) media and the (unknowing) public characterized this incident as a manhunt; however, to the trained law enforcement and security professional, this is more accurately described as a multi-jurisdictional criminal investigation. Yes, a manhunt or search was involved, and this process garnered most of the attention. But behind the scenes, the men and women overseeing and steering the investigation did the real yeoman’s work. These unheralded professionals constructed the investigative strategy to tighten the noose and turn up the heat as the search area shrunk. Now that this investigation is over, a new investigation begins—to determine how they escaped and, more importantly, who helped them escape. Two prison employees are already in custody, and more may follow.

If I Could Turn Back Time

Working backwards, one of the latest pieces of evidence uncovered in the case were the discovery of a fugitive’s fingerprints along with prison-issued garments inside a burglarized cabin. This event helped pinpoint and downsize the scope and scale of the investigation. Prior to this development, sightings as far as 400 miles away near the Pennsylvania border were reported. Another major break in the case was the arrest of two possible accomplices who worked at the correctional facility. One person is a guard at the prison accused of smuggling in tools. Allegedly the other individual had sexual relationships with both fugitives and planned to provide the getaway car only to change her mind at the last minute. All of this pertinent information set the stage for what had become an exhaustive large-scale investigation.

Separating Fact from Fiction  

The police followed up on more than 2,000 leads, and as more clues continued to surface, they obviously confirmed some of these tips in order to separate fact from fiction. Every investigation features multiple facets that will hopefully and eventually lead to an arrest. An investigator’s role is multi-purpose: a case needs to be built; responsible parties identified, whether directly or indirectly involved; proof (e.g., evidence) compiled; and credibility (e.g., fact) separated from speculation (e.g., fiction). A critical piece of evidence such as fingerprints (e.g., DNA) or forensic evidence is considered extremely reliable in an investigation because it is difficult to question. Other evidence such as an eyewitness account is categorized as testimony (e.g., oral or written statements), which is admissible in a judicial or administrative proceeding, but subject to the scrutiny of a defense attorney.

The Devil Is in the Details

In order to catch these men, investigators did more than saturate an area with searchers. They spent a painstaking amount of time sifting through information and crafting a strategy and tactical plan to allocate and implement the resources required to apprehend these criminals. “Leaving no stone unturned” is the best cliché I can think of when it comes to the investigative methodology used for this situation. According to a spokesperson, the authorities were looking “behind every tree, under every rock and inside every structure.” This investigation implemented numerous techniques such as reviewing hotel registries to identify alias names, interviewing anyone who may have had contact with the fugitives, going door to door to check on homes and seasonal residences, and conducting vehicle searches at police checkpoints.

Playing from the Same Sheet of Music   

These methods and findings are not happenstance or spontaneous. Instead they are all part of a holistic investigative approach synchronized between multiple private, state, local, and federal partners. The seamless integration between these different entities and jurisdictions is the hallmark of a complex criminal investigation coordinated and controlled by experienced and professional investigators. The sharing of information, scrubbing of intelligence, and designed actions are carefully vetted and approved by authorized decision makers entrusted with this responsibility by their respective organizations. This investigation was a collaboration between different skill sets and backgrounds that resulted in the implementation of the very best tactics and processes. The final outcome of these efforts was not whether these inmates would be caught, but when they would be caught.  After the smoke cleared and the dust settled, these investigators did their jobs, the investigation resulted in arrests, and peace of mind was restored to the area.

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