Published: Jan 28, 2011 4:42 AM EST
Updated: Jan 28, 2011 1:42 AM EST

LEE COUNTY, Fla. - A U.S. senator from the state where four law enforcement officers were killed within the past week while trying to capture wanted fugitives is asking the Justice Department to consider giving hand-held radar or heat-detecting devices that can penetrate walls to deputized federal agents when they have warrants and are on dangerous manhunts.

In a letter today to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) asked whether such new technologies - including so-called “sense-through-the-wall” devices, developed for use by the U.S. military - should be among the tools provided to agents of federal task forces when they have warrants to apprehend felons considered armed and dangerous.

In his letter to Holder, Nelson suggested he’d be willing to sponsor legislation in the Senate that would create a pilot program.  New technologies “could greatly shift the odds in favor of the good guys, before they have to enter a building where a fugitive is hiding out,”  Nelson wrote in his letter to Holder, in which he asked the Justice Department to consider the matter during a review of the recent attacks on law enforcement officers around the country.

Just since Sunday, 11 police officers reportedly have been shot in five separate on-the-job incidents across the country.

Nelson’s request, and the Justice Department’s review, come after the shootings of two police officers in Miami, and two in St. Petersburg.  All four were killed while trying to arrest fugitives who didn't want to be taken quietly.  The two officers in Miami were deputized by a fugitives task force created the U.S. Marshals Service; and, the two in St. Petersburg were assisting the task force.  A deputy U.S. marshal was wounded in the gunfight in St. Petersburg.  The suspect there, who was also killed, had been hiding in an attic.

Nelson noted the limited use of the new technology should pose no privacy concerns, because the Supreme Court already has ruled such devices can’t be employed without a warrant. [Kyllo v. United States.] 

To help in the hunt for dangerous felons, the Marshals Service set up fugitive task forces in Florida and six other regions nationwide.  The task forces were began in 2000 with the purpose of combining the efforts of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to find and arrest the most dangerous fugitives and assist in high profile investigations.

Nelson's Letter:

January 27, 2011


The Honorable Eric Holder

Attorney General

U.S. Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC  20530


Dear Attorney General Holder:

In light of the recent killings of four police officers in Florida, I am writing to request that you determine whether members of the U.S. Marshals Service regional fugitive task forces should have the use of hand-held radar devices that provide “sense-through-the-wall” surveillance, or other appropriate new technology, like thermal-imaging cameras.

Sadly, these four officers were killed while on manhunts for dangerous fugitives in Miami and St. Petersburg.  In the St. Petersburg gunfight, the suspect was hiding in the attic of a house.  In the exchange of gunfire, a deputy U.S. Marshal also was wounded.

My staff has informed me that the expanded use of appropriate technologies for agents on these federal task forces – law enforcement officers whose duties include serving warrants and apprehending wanted felons - could greatly shift the odds to the good guys, before they have to enter a building where a fugitive is hiding out.

Please consider my request as part of your review of the recent killings of these law enforcement officers.  I would like to know whether we should offer legislation to create a pilot program for use in limited circumstances involving the apprehension of fugitives believed to be armed and dangerous.  Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter, and I look forward to your response.   If you or your staff have any questions, please contact my counsel, Stephanie Mickle at (202) 224-1554.