THE MAGAZINE

You Be the Judge

By Mary Alice Davidson

Federal Court Security
At the federal level, the U. S. Marshals Service (USMS) is responsible for judicial and court security in 94 federal judicial districts and the District of Columbia Superior Court. The USMS resources have to serve about 2,000 judges plus other court officials at more than 400 court facilities throughout the nation.

More than 3,000 deputy marshals direct activities at the district offices. They carry out USMS standards that include guidance on court security technology and staffing.

Technology. The Judicial Security Systems (JSS) division at the Marshals Service headquarters is responsible for the complex perimeter security, access control, CCTV, and alarms used to protect court personnel and facilities. All entrances are equipped with weapons-screening stations using walk-through and handheld detectors and other equipment designed to detect illegal substances.

After 9-11, physical security surveys were conducted by JSS at all federal courthouse buildings. Upgrades were added where needed based on the existing technology at the site. New equipment included vehicles barriers, exterior cameras, and emergency operations equipment.

In addition, the position of judicial security inspector was created in all 94 districts. This person is the security specialist for the district and performs annual security surveys. As a result, further upgrades are in the works, to include a communications system that integrates court security officers and marshals with a security control center.

Staffing. The judicial security inspector is responsible for protecting the members of the judiciary and other court employees as well as jurors, attorneys, and citizens visiting the courthouse. These duties are carried out by contract court security officers. These officers operate entryway screening equipment and control access. Currently, more than 4,500 of these armed officers are deployed at federal court facilities throughout the United States and its territories.

The number of security officers per district is based on a formula established by the USMS. It is based on factors such as the hours of the court’s operation and the number of entrances. As needs change—if another judge is added to the district, for example—additional security officers are assigned to that location.

Security officers must meet background, physical, medical, and weapons qualifications standards. Every security officer “is required to have been a fully commissioned law enforcement officer for at least three years,” says Daya Khalsa, senior vice president, Akal Security. The company signed its first contract with USMS in 1992 and now supplies court security officers in nine of twelve judicial circuits.

The salary of these officers, determined by the U. S. Department of Labor, is “often as high as $50,000 to $60,000 a year,” says Khalsa. As a result, turnover is low. Officers “feel that they are in a professional position that has respect and upward mobility,” he says.

Security officers are deputy marshals while they are on the job. While USMS deputies detain perpetrators and make arrests, the court security officer “is empowered to bridge the gap between security and law enforcement when necessary,” says Khalsa.

Training of the officers is handled jointly by the contractor and the Marshals Service. The core training programs have not changed despite courtroom incidents in the news, says Khalsa. “We work these incidents into our training, the lessons learned,” he says.

According to Tom Roberts, Jr., CPP, who serves as U. S. marshal for the southern district of Georgia, up to 20 sheriff’s deputies and 30 security officers routinely handle functions for the six federal courthouses in his district.

The numbers are not as high as they have been in the past, because of other demands on the Marshals Service. Deputy marshals are serving in Afghanistan and Iraq to help set up their ministries of justice, prepare standards, and determine training schedules, says Roberts. And about 200 marshals were provided to the southeastern United States after Hurricane Katrina.

High-risk trials. The level of protection also varies according to what is scheduled in a given district or courtroom. Recently, the USMS oversaw security for several high-profile cases such as the trial of Enron executive Jeffrey Skilling in Houston, Texas, and the trial of al Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui in Alexandria, Virginia.

“When we have high-risk trials, we coordinate with the judge and with headquarters,” says Roberts. “Everyone is focused on that trial.”

The marshal, the deputy marshals, and the judicial security inspector specify the number of additional deputies and the type of electronic equipment needed for the trial. They also map out how prisoners will be transported and housed, and make provisions for securing the jury and arranging for their living needs should the members be sequestered.

In trials expected to attract large crowds, court security officers might be asked to support deputy marshals in courtroom security, acting as a type of bailiff, says Khalsa. The officers might also be stationed in specific hallways, asked to protect entrances to judge’s chambers, or assigned to patrol the perimeter of the courthouse.

In these cases, funding for security is available from headquarters as needed, says Roberts, an enviable situation not shared by those charged with security in lower courts.

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