Ask the Expert — Marc Cameron, Chief Deputy US Marshal (Retired)

IMG_7363I am so excited to welcome guest Marc Cameron to the blog today. I met Marc at Bouchercon last October and must confess that before meeting him most of my knowledge about the US Marshal Service came from watching the movie The Fugitive. Okay, I also knew they flew on airplanes but that was about it. Marc gave me a quarter-sized US Marshal pin which I’m pretty sure means I’ve been deputized. I now walk a little taller and feel a little tougher than I used too. (I double checked that whole deputized thing with Marc and um, not so much. But don’t mess me with or I’ll whip out the pin.)

What does a US Marshal do and how does it differ from other law enforcement agencies?
The US Marshals Service has been around since George Washington formed it in 1789. In fact, it’s the oldest federal law enforcement agency in the United States. In the early days of the country US Marshals did everything—protected the president, investigated counterfeiters, hunted bootleggers, collected taxes and even took the census. Gradually, other agencies like the Secret Service, Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, Customs, the FBI and others were formed and the deputy US marshals duties evolved into what they are today: Protecting Federal Judges (including Justices of the Supreme Court), transporting federal prisoners, managing the Witness Protection Program, managing seized federal assets, and hunting federal fugitives.

Where some agencies’ authority is strictly proscribed by US Code (like immigration, drug enforcement, customs, etc.) the statuary authority of a deputy US marshal is extremely broad, allowing us to “enforce all federal laws.” This authority allows the Attorney General of the United States to mobilize deputy marshals to assist with a wide variety of federal incidents including Coal Miner strikes, riots (such as the LA riots after the Rodney King Verdict), Operation Just Cause (the arrest of Manuel Noriega) and the aftermath of hurricanes like Andrew or Katrina. Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, US Marshals were the federal agency tasked with spy exchanges on the Glienike Bridge between Potsdam and West Berlin. We are a relatively small agency so deputies are often sent on temporary reassignment to augment areas of the country that need more staffing.

What is the training like to become a Marshal?
Deputy US Marshals go through a stringent background check and physical assessment in order to get hired. Many new hires have law enforcement and/or military experience. Once they are hired, deputy marshal trainees go through a rigorous sixteen week academy at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Brunswick, Georgia. Constitutional Law, arrest procedures, defensive and offensive driving (bootlegger turns, ramming, blocking and pursuit), drug enforcement, and fugitive investigation are covered in classroom and practical settings. There is a sign as you drive on to FLETC that reads: “Role Playing in Progress. If ordered to halt, please comply.”

Marshals Service training is extremely physical with two to four hours of physical training and defensive tactics training every day—with lots and lots of running. There are several indoor and outdoor firearms ranges and many hours are also spent practicing and qualifying with sidearms and long guns, including fully automatic weapons. When I went through training we qualified with the UZI. Now they use an HK UMP or MP5. When I came aboard in 1991 we could carry our choice of sidearm as long as it met certain criteria. Now deputies are issued a Glock pistol in .40 caliber, an AR15 carbine and a 12 gauge shotgun. Some specialties get the UMP or MP5 as well.

imageWhat did you do as a Marshal? Have any stories you are willing to share?
I was fortunate to work in several small two-person sub-offices in Texas and Idaho when I started out. Prisoner loads were lower and court was relatively light so we spent ninety percent of our time chasing fugitives—my favorite work within the Marshals Service. I spent three years along the Red River on the Texas side of the border with Oklahoma and four years in the panhandle area of Idaho working from the Canadian Border to central Idaho. Our offices were in Coeur d’Alene, one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.

In 1998 I transferred to Alaska were I served as deputy in charge of the multi-agency Alaska Fugitive Task Force as well as a member of the Tactical Tracking Unit, a rural man-tracking team comprised of specially trained deputies.  I eventually promoted to Judicial Security Inspector where I was tasked with the protection of federal judges in Alaska. For the last six years of my career I served as the Chief Deputy for Alaska. I had the most fun though as a POD (plain old deputy.)
Gobs and gobs of stories… Major Fugitive operations all over the US, plenty of bad guys, a handful of bad women, and a couple of hellacious fights—but through it all I was fortunate to work alongside some of the finest men and women on the planet. If I wasn’t writing novels full-time I wouldn’t have retired until they forced me out.

How did you end up becoming a U.S. Marshal? Did you always want to be in law enforcement?
I have wanted to be a police officer from the time I realized that they were the closest thing to Batman there is—fighting crime while wearing a costume/uniform and utility belt. I also wanted to write books. My sweet wife knew of both my dreams and bought me a bullet proof vest and an electric typewriter the first year we were married. Prior to getting a job with the US Marshals I worked as a police officer at a small department near Ft. Worth, Texas. I served on uniform patrol, mounted (horse) patrol, and as a detective, investigating everything from simple theft to homicide.

I saw my first deputy US marshal (other than on Gunsmoke) when I was in high school in Texas. He was a big guy and wore starched jeans, a pressed cotton shirt, a big silver belly hat and a .45 in decorative holster—much like the Texas Rangers I’d seen on TV. He got out of his truck on the courthouse square and put a bag over the parking meter that said “US Marshals Official Business”. I thought that would be a cool thing to have someday… I went on to work several fugitive cases with that same deputy I’d seen in my hometown when I was with the police department. That really got me interested in the Marshals Service. That deputy eventually did my background investigation a few years later when I was hired. One of the best days of my life was when I was finally issued my Marshals Service star badge and the nylon raid jacket with POLICE: US Marshal emblazoned on the back. Sappy I know, but it still gets me when I think about how fortunate I am.

What are three things we should know about being a U.S. Marshal?
There are very likely deputy US marshals operating in your city at some point or another; we’re just quiet so you might not ever even know we’re there—unless you’re a fugitive, then we’ll be knocking at your door in the wee hours of the morning.

We’re with the Department of Justice, but we’re not part of the FBI

Almost every major fugitive operation in the US (and many international investigations) involve the US Marshals because of our expertise. We’re don’t talk much about it though and would generally rather give the credit to the state or local agencies we are working with.

What do people usually get wrong when writing about U.S. Marshals?
Marshals handle the Witness Protection Program (commonly called Wit-Sec or The Program.) Several television shows and movies have actually gotten this right in recent years but I still see shows every year where it’s the FBI running the Program. It’s all pretty hush hush so we really don’t mind if other people take the credit for that either. It helps us do our job if we operate more in the shadows.

Marshal is spelled with ONE L. I am always surprised with how many get that wrong. I have a friend in the FBI who constantly spells it Marshall so I now spell his agency Federall Bureau of Investigation.

Con-Air is run much better and more securely than depicted on any move or television show. Tens of thousands of prisoners are moved around the US by plane, bus, and van every year. The real name for Con-Air is JPATS-Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation System.

Do you use your expertise in your books?
I draw on my experiences as a police officer and deputy marshal all the time—Weapons I’m familiar with, driving techniques I’ve practiced, and fights I’ve been involved in all provide kernels of ideas that I spin into stories—taking certain liberties with the details of course. I was in a fight on patrol years ago in a restaurant kitchen where the bad guy kicked me into the lip of a stainless steel counter. My vest absorbed some of the trauma to my kidneys and I was able to arrest the guy—but I was off work and peeing blood for a few days. Jericho Quinn has a similar fight in Day Zero but he doesn’t make the same mistakes I did and comes through it with less of a problem. I certainly draw from the bad guys and gals I’ve dealt with when I’m writing.

During the early part of my career deputies spent a lot of time transporting prisoners in caged sedans. Since I knew I wanted to write novels, I used this time to chat with outlaws about their lives as I took them to prison. It was like going to school to be a Adventure novelist.

Just after we moved to Alaska I was involved in a foot pursuit after a fugitive in downtown Anchorage. The bad guy ran into one of our local bars that turned out to be a warren of different rooms, some with undies stapled to the ceiling, other with dancing, a Russian-theme, etc. I ended up busting through one door into a dim room where I came upon two girls in skimpy bras having a tug of war with a chain connected to steel hooks that pierced the flesh of their backs. First one to pull the other one across a line in the floor won. I’m not the sort to come upon scenes like this in the normal course of my evenings out, so when I heard on the radio that other deputies had caught my guy,  I stood there for a minute and took it in, knowing that I would use it in a book one day. The scene ended up in State of Emergency pretty much the same as I saw it, right down to the description of one of the girls I turned into a villain.

81J5-kPAM+L._SL1500_Jericho Quinn and his team are all a mixture of the great men and women I’ve been able to work from the Marshals Service and many other federal agencies. I’m fortunate that I have so much to draw from.

What are you working on now?
I’m always working on a Jericho Quinn book. BRUTE FORCE, sixth in the series, came out in January. I have to turn in #7, FIELD OF FIRE, in March. I already have an idea for #8 and will jump into it once I get my editor to approve it.

Marc Cameron is the New York Times Bestselling author of the Jericho Quinn Thriller series. His short stories have appeared in BOYS’ LIFE Magazine and the Saturday Evening Post. He’s published twelve novels. BRUTE FORCE, the newest Jericho Quinn Thriller, was released by Kensington in January of 2016.  Marc is a retired Chief Deputy US Marshal and 29-year law enforcement veteran. He lives in Alaska with his beautiful bride and BMW motorcycle.

Visit him at:

Readers: If you have a question about the US Marshal service, Marc will be stopping by as time allows to answer questions.


33 Thoughts

  1. This is fascinating, Marc! As you know, we mostly write cozies here. But there HAS to be a way to work some of this into our books. (Also just checked your author page – I studied karate on the Yokota AFB in the late seventies – small world.) Did you start writing while you were still employed with the US Marshal Service?

    1. Thanks, Edith. I love Japan and plan to go back as soon as I can set another book there.
      I started writing Westerns while I was still with the Marshals and moved into Adventure Thrillers about three years before I retired. I couldn’t write about the Marshals Service while I was still employed with them so my hero is a globetrotting Air Force OSI agent. The books were selling well enough that I was able to retire when I turned 50–seven years earlier than I otherwise would have. I introduced Deputy US Marshal August Bowen into the series right after I retired–and may spin him off into his own books some day.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. I don’t think I knew any of this, officially. Hmm, where can I fit a Marshal in my next book? Are there details we can’t give away?

  3. I had the same reaction when I read this article — I want to include a deputy US Marshal (one L) in a book! Thanks so much for joining us today, Marc! Is there a mandatory retirement age for deputy US Marshals?

    1. Thank you, Sherry. I’d love to see more deputies in books. The mandatory retirement age for federal gun toters is 57. We may retire at 50 on a reduced pension. Fifty-seven is plenty old to be runnin’ and gunnin’ with the young deputies. Heck, fifty is old for that. I think there are some videos on the page that show the physical training we go through.

  4. Can we talk about The Fugitive? I love that film, despite the big plot hole. But do you like it? How accurate is its portrayal of a fugitive hunt?

    1. Hi Barb,
      I loved the fugitive and consider it, along with True Grit and certain episodes of Justified to be training videos.
      The tenacity of Sam Gerard in hunting down his fugitive is real. Many of the methods they use are real. The ability to get a helicopter on a moment’s notice, not so real. We also work very hard not to come in and alienate local law enforcement with a know-it-all swagger. We’re there to work together, not take over the case. That said, sometimes, personalities that are dogged in their idea of pursuit can leave a trail of bruised and broken egos in their wake.
      The line that rings particularly true is when Richard Kimball is about to jump off the dam spillway and he turns and says, “I didn’t kill my wife.” Deputy Gerard says: “I don’t care.”
      Our job as deputy US Marshals is not to decide guilt or incense. Our job is to get you back in custody. The courts decide the rest.

  5. Hi Marc–Thanks so much for visiting the Wicked Cozies. If Marshals were escorting a prisoner on a commercial flight, would I be able to tell? I used to fly a lot for my day job and I don’t recall ever seeing a prisoner, but maybe I was oblivious?

    1. When we’re moving someone by van or sedan we always put them in what we call a three-piece suit–leg irons, handcuffs, and a belly chain. On commercial aircraft we generally dispense with the leg irons for egress reasons in case of emergency. It’s a good thing you never noticed prisoners on the airplane. Generally speaking there will be two deputies flanking the prisoner, they’ll board first and deplane last, and will sit in the back of the plane. We usually keep a jacket or t-shirt to put over the handcuffs so they’re not so visible.

  6. Mark, if you have a chance will you explain to everyone about being called a deputy US Marshal instead of just a US Marshal. I thought it was interesting but that was in an email and not here.

    1. Sure. There are 94 US Marshals. These positions are appointed by the President and serve as ‘at will’ employees. In other words, they can be let go without much of a reason. In the past, they have come from all walks of life and generally have the ear of the senator in their home state/district. Much like the definition of a federal judge was “a lawyer who’s best friend is a US senator.” This changed somewhat after 9/11 where the Patriot Act spelled out the requirements for a USM. Now, they still need political connections but generally come from upper management in other state and local law enforcement agencies. Deputy US Marshals are the worker bees of the agency. Our classification is the same as what other agencies call “Special Agent.” We just hang on to the term “Deputy.”
      We are hired through the civil service system so our jobs are secure when an administration changes. Though the marshal is the top executive in each of the 94 judicial districts, the Chief Deputy handles the day to day running of the district such as implementation of the district budget and staffing. Chief deputies are career employees so we have a much closer relationship with USMS HQ, where Marshals change. In many ways, it is redundant to have two bosses in each district but the USM faces outbound, dealing with the politics while the Chief handles the workaday stuff. Marshals have gold badges and the rest of us carry a silver badge. My preference is for the boots on the ground work of the silver badge, but two of my best friends and mentors are my previous marshals.

  7. I enjoyed this blog and would love to read your books — where do I start?

  8. Thanks for visiting with us today, Marc! I absolutely love your paper bag/ meter story. You might not write cozy mysteries but somthing like that would fit in with any of our fictional towns! At least in those towns that have parking meters!

    1. Thank you, Jessie. You’re right. That particular town in Texas, where I grew up and later worked, would be a nice setting for a cozy mystery.

  9. Marc, as always, a super post. I find this so fascinating–probably because I’m a big chicken at heart and I think I would be scared to death (yes, even if I was a GUY) to tackle this job you have done and loved for so many years. Thank you for your service! And keep those Jericho stories coming!

  10. hello,
    i would like to know how the ranks goes when it comes to a u.s. marshal. is a u.s. marshal over detectives and local police, and county prosecutors specifically, amd whose authority is over a u.s. marshal?

    1. Hello Ty,
      Deputy US marshals have jurisdiction to enforce federal laws in all fifty states and US territories. That allows them to travel across state lines in the course of their duties. It does not mean that they have authority over state or local police. For instance if a county prosecutor and sheriff were investigating a fugitive matter within their county, the Marshals Service could not swoop in and take it over–unless asked to by the governor. It is more likely that deputy marshals would be assigned to assist local officers in an ad hoc task force. Federal authority can sometimes trump state authority in a federal crime or prisoner matter (if someone is in state custody and the feds need to get him or her out to prosecute, they can do that) but that is up to the prosecutors not the men and women agents/deputies on the street. As far as detectives and local police–deputy marshals are not over them in rank or authority in day to day matters. The deputy marshals just have wider geographic and jurisdictional authority. One may not impede the other during the course of their lawful duties.
      Hope this answers your question.

  11. Hi Marc, thank you for all the info you gave us. I found real hard to get info on the us marshals, so I hope you dont mind a lot of questions.
    1:How many years of work as a leo would make me look like a better candidate?
    2:Is true that they can carry any weapon as a back-up or off-duty as long at is DAO and they qualify?
    3:It is true that they are only transfered when they want, instead of every 3 years as other federal leo?
    4:Deputies also have the 25% avaliability pay as other federal leo?

    1. Hi Lucas,
      If you have a degree then you technically don’t have to have any LEO experience–though it doesn’t hurt. On the other hand, I customarily tell folks who are thinking of a USMS career that they might consider working at a state or local agency to get the “red lights and sirens” out of their blood. Federal law enforcement is great, but an entirely different animal than local, boots-on-the-ground law enforcement. The experience you get from that learning about people and what makes them tick is invaluable. If you do go that route, I’d recommend spending at least three years. You just have to make sure you’re hired by the time you’re 37.

      You can’t carry ANY weapon. There are some restrictions. Six years ago, when I retired, an off duty or backup had to be .380 or larger. Not a magnum (with the exception of .357 mag.) It didn’t have to be double action only, but it could not be single action (IE 1911.) Most of the folks I knew carried something that was either a revolver (for ease of use in a winter jacket pocket) or something along the same lines as their primary weapon–IE a small Glock to go with the duty Glock. You do have to qualify and that usually happens at the same time you qual with your duty weapon.

      Deputy marshals do not usually transfer unless they want to promote or just want to work in a different part of the country. There are times though, for the good of the Service, where they could move people. This would be a paid move.

      Yes. DUSMs to get Law Enforcement Availability Pay or LEAP once they reach the GS 11 level. This is a good deal but you do work for it, averaging ten hours a day.

      Hope this helps.

      The best place to get info is

Comments are closed.