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An Interview with U.S. Marshals Service Director Benigno Reyna
Q:Can you tell us something about your background before coming to the United States Marshals Service
A: I’ve been in law enforcement for more than half of my life. I come from Brownsville, Texas, where I capped 25 years of service last year with the Browns-ville Police Department. I also served as a Commissioner with the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education and participated with the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, working with the Counter Drug Technology Assessment Center.
I think public service was in my heart. Starting in 4th grade, I was a school safety patrol boy. I used to admire the police officers who’d come by. When I went to college, they had a federally funded police cadet program in which you worked part-time in the police department. After that there was LEAP, allowing a lot of us to continue school then work for a police department for two years to pay off student loans. So that’s how I started when I was 19 years old. I enjoyed all 25 years, from May 1976 to May 2001, the last six years as police chief. I retired May 31.
Q:What is the role of the USMS in protecting federal judges?
A: Unquestionably, our primary responsibility is to the Judiciary, and I think we’ve certainly had a very, very proud past. We look back all the way to the beginning of our country, to 1789, when the United States Marshals Service was created. We are recognized today as a democracy because of a strong Judiciary and because of the enforcement of the laws and guiding principles in the Constitution. So when I look at the U.S. Marshals Service, I don’t think that the USMS protects courtrooms and judges—I think we protect the integrity of the judicial process, we protect democracy.
We obviously supply a lot of personnel to secure the venues and the courtrooms, like we have in the Eastern District of Virginia with the Moussaoui case, where we have gone to a different security level to meet the needs of the district. But I think our biggest focus is the detection and prevention of any potential problem in the courthouse.
The addition of technologies is helping in a lot of the security work, which were not previously available. I remember when there were certain rooms in the courthouse that were highly protected because that’s where all the data and documents were stored. Now that’s done electronically and its in a little box stored maybe 100 miles away. All those things have changed, but the U.S. Marshals Service has evolved with the Judiciary. The U.S. Marshals Service just doesn’t look at what is happening in and around the courthouse; we have to also keep track of what’s happening in the entire community. And, we have received good cooperation from the members of the Judiciary; they are very supportive of what we’re trying to do.
Q:How does the USMS respond to threats against judges? Has the nature of this work changed since September 11?
A: Every threat is a serious threat. We respond quite quickly in trying to investigate and assess the threat. Obviously, the investigation will determine what course of action will be taken. It also is important to bring other agencies into the process and communicate with them. We may have an individual who is threatening a certain judge, but he or she may have threatened an official of a different branch of government. It is also important that we always have a direct line of communication with the judges, so when something happens, they notify us immediately and we respond adequately. We also want to deliver a message. . .we take a threat against the Judiciary seriously. If a threat equates to something that’s prosecutable, we will seek prosecution. Prosecution serves in some instances as a deterrent against such threats. In this regard, the U.S. attorneys are another critical component and they’ve been extremely helpful.
The nature of threats to America has changed. We saw aircraft used as terrorist tools and we’re now looking at persons who may present threats as suicidal individuals. How do you protect yourself from that? How do you detect certain improvised explosive devices where technology has not yet advanced? Should we be worried about biological threats, or about who is buying items readily available at the hardware or feed store which can be used as components of explosive devices? What systems are needed so when an agency detects something at the border, they can notify us? We’re a global society. When we look at threats we have to look at the big picture. And we have to stay connected to everyone. Crime does not respect any border.
Q:What is the most immediate challenge facing the USMS?
A: Law enforcement always faces challenges. The great thing is that law enforcement has always been able to adapt to the changing needs of this country. But we also obviously need the necessary support and resources to meet those challenges. Security is expensive. There are a lot of buzzwords associated with new security technology, making things sound so simple. But the reality is providing law enforcement and security services can be a complicated process and costly. I come from an environment where 25 percent of the budget was for law enforcement—that’s one in every four dollars.
We need to start looking at ways to protect the Judiciary in a very different way. In-house, we look at ways to enhance our service, not only with personnel, but also with technology, equipment, and facility design. We have to take a global look at it. My position has been, we just can’t go back out and ask for more of the same, because then we will be exactly where we were before September 11. We need to look at our needs and then ask for the resources to fit those specific needs. You just can’t throw bodies at a complex situation. For example, should we be a better consumer of intelligence? Do we have the right information technology infrastructure to support the daily sharing of information among not only U.S. Marshals, but other agencies? How can we communicate a threat to our 94 districts in real time? How can we communicate if we lose some of the commercial infrastructure? These are the tough challenges requiring a lot of planning and coordination, not just for the U.S. Marshals Service but for the entire government.
Like anything else, there’s always room to enhance and improve, and we learn new things every day. What’s important when we look at the security of the Judiciary is that we stay on the cutting edge of technology, make sure we have the right number of people, and that we have the right fit of employees to do the job.
We need more personnel, but existing personnel functions can be augmented with technologies. A magnetometer can do a lot of work. A camera can enhance a part of a building that perhaps we couldn’t see before. We need enhanced training programs so we learn more about threat assessment.
Q:The Judiciary is funding l06 senior-level deputy U.S. marshal positions to coordinate security in the circuit and district courts. How quickly will the positions be filled and how beneficial do you think they will be?
A: We have announced 56 of the 106 positions, and the selection process is underway. The remaining 50 positions will be staffed in FY 03. Our staffing process can be accelerated only to a certain extent because we’re promoting into the new positions, so wherever a deputy U.S. marshal leaves, there is a void, and we need to back-fill that position. These new positions are very critical in addressing security needs and concerns of the judges in each district. Once in place, they will be able to establish a network of expertise and communication. Placement of these new deputy marshals is a good example of how we need to think differently as we move forward in meeting new challenges.
Q:How will the U.S. Marshals Service handle emergency preparedness within the federal courts?
A: I think we have to develop a very strong awareness of what we need to do in each district. No two districts are the same. But one of the things we need to do is work with our colleagues in the federal court buildings, not just the judges. We need to harmonize whatever we do with the U.S. attorney’s office, GSA and other components. This is where the new 106 deputy US marshals positions come in. They will be able to assist the courts in developing specific plans to manage emergencies impacting the security of the Judiciary and continuity of operations.
EWhen an emergency plan is formulated, you just can’t bind it and put it on the shelf. Every plan has to be tested and evaluated. Who makes the decision to evacuate a federal courthouse, is it the chief judge, or is it GSA? What if someone decides to stay? And at what point do we push our authority? Where do the judges meet? Who takes roll call to make sure everybody is out? How long does it take to get out of the building? And the judges want to know if they’re in courtroom "A" that they’ll exit this way, or if they’re in courtroom "B" they’ll exit in a different direction. These are the kinds of things we need to consider in the planning process. Because it’s not just going to be the judges exiting the courthouse. We’re going to have clerks, juries, public, and prisoners.
Q:How are you interacting with government agencies? Are you sharing security information with these agencies?
A: Law enforcement captures a lot of data, but we don’t analyze it in some cases, and we don’t turn it into useable data. So while we may have a data pile of 150 names with criminal records, no one may have analyzed it to determine if anyone has made threats against a federal agency. The important thing is for us to go out and tell other agencies, we know you collect data. This is the data that is important to us. They’re willing to give the information, but we have to tell them what we want. We’re getting better at that. The idea is to get information in real time, and get it out to the districts. That is a big challenge and individuals sometimes don’t see the complexity, especially when you can pick up a cell phone and talk anywhere in the world with the press of a button under normal conditions. In situations like those experienced in New York City and Washington, D.C. in September 2001, it is quite difficult. Everyone in the government is looking at it, and it is important that the USMS participates with the Homeland Security.