OCTOBER 25, 2005 (1985-2005)
"There is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never care for anything else thereafter!"
- Ernest Hemingway
The Massachusetts State Police Violent Fugitive Apprehension Section, formerly the Violent Fugitive Arrest Squad (VFAS) celebrated its 20th anniversary on October 25th, marking two decades of stunning results.
Over 17,000 fugitives, all with violent backgrounds of murder, rape, armed robbery, and felony assaults were returned to prison cells. Think how many murders, rapes, and assaults have NOT been committed because these fugitives were taken off the streets before they could commit another crime?
In addition to the battalions of bad guys locked up, the VFAS unit has identified and located more than 4000 sex offenders, most of whom were required to register with authorities.
When it was formed in October of 1985, the VFAS unit was a unique and different approach to crime. Instead of lumping all offenses into one gigantic list, the State Police targeted those who used violence. These were in many cases, vicious criminals who hurt people, made people afraid in their own homes and on the streets where they lived.
Some of the fugitives are prison escapees, so VFAS works closely with the Massachusetts Department of Corrections Fugitive Unit. Some of the corrections personnel have been working alongside the same troopers for 20 years. It is a partnership of mutual trust and has produced outstanding results.
The Massachusetts VFAS is a model for much of the nation. On numerous occasions, they have sponsored national fugitive conferences in New England, drawing law enforcement people from all over the country and in some cases, from abroad.
They exchange ideas and business cards. They learn from each other. And if they need help in say, Texas or Oregon, they have a Rolodex chock full of cops who remember there hospitality in New England. It's reciprocal too, and they have formed their own network to help put hardened criminals where they belong.
The results speak for themselves. Crime rates either did not climb as fast as they might have, or they actually went down. You can trace a lot of violent behavior to a relatively small number of offenders. Those are the ones in their sights."
In 20 years of pulling criminals out of closets or crowds, only one fugitive has traded gunfire with the squad--he was killed in a gun battle in Taunton in 1988 after he fired a 12-gauge shotgun at a member of the squad.
Capt. David Mattioli, who formed the squad and led it back in 1985 and who has since retired, attended the 20 th anniversary reunion. He takes pride at his legacy and the tradition of the VFAS. He knows the dangerous nature of the job and the need for such a Specialized Unit.
Among the many stories of fugitives hunted down is one famous in Massachusetts. Armand Therrien was a former state trooper (in NH) who killed a local police officer and was sent to prison for life. In 1988, Therrien walked off of a minimum security hospital work detail and fled to Chicago where VFAS and Corrections surprised him, guns drawn. He surrendered peacefully and now is back in a cell at Cedar Junction, maximum security.
Another great story is that of Norman Porter who fled the state on two murder charges serving four life sentences and lived 20 years under an alias in Chicago. While in prison (26yrs) and on the lam, Porter showed a penchant for writing poetry and gained local fame. Again, VFAS and Corrections tracked him down to Chicago, prompting one officer to write a little rhyme of his own. "Spring has Sprung, The Grass has Risen, and Norman Porter is back in Prison."
Then Trooper and now Detective Lieutenant, Kevin Horton has been with the Squad since it's inception in 1985. Of all the stories and all the arrests it has been the privilege to work with some of the best "cops" on this job, that he will remember most. You can sum up the 20 years of the Units history by a quote from Sophocles which the Unit adopted as its motto: "HE ESCAPES WHO IS NOT PURSUED".