Text Size -A+

March 2011

  • print
  • FAQs

This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.


Ensuring Safety and Security: An Interview with the Director of the U.S. Marshals Service

USMS Director Stacia A. Hylton

USMS Director Stacia A. Hylton

Stacia A. Hylton was sworn in as the 10th Director of the U.S. Marshals Service on December 31, 2010.

What are the U.S. Marshals Service’s responsibilities concerning the federal Judiciary?

We ensure the safety and security of the judicial proceedings that take place in federal courts by providing protection for federal judges, U.S. attorneys, assistant U.S. attorneys, personnel, jurors, the visiting public and prisoners. This is accomplished through personal protection and physical security of facilities housing court operations and personnel. This includes, but is not limited to, more than 2,200 judges and other court officials at over 440 facilities throughout the country.

We achieve this through two appropriations: The direct appropriation provided to the Marshals Service by Congress to provide for the safety and security of the judicial proceedings; and through the court security appropriation obtained by the Judiciary from Congress and then transferred to the Marshals to administer the court security officer and physical security systems and equipment programs for court space.

As Director, what are your goals for the USMS?

The responsibilities of the Marshals Service have expanded outside the original scope of securing judicial proceedings and personal security. Some of this expansion has been a direct result of significant and tragic events that have triggered the need for the government to react with increased judicial security programs, such as facility security, off-site security, and threat investigations. With the support of the federal courts, the Marshals Service has taken great strides in addressing these new responsibilities, but there is still much work to be done.

Additionally, over the past 10 years there have been other changes that play into establishing our priorities, such as significant growth in caseloads, especially in the border districts. This creates challenges for space and resources at both the courts and the USMS. These factors, coupled with the Marshals having no funding for infrastructure renovations is causing difficulties with processing and moving prisoners effectively to courts nationwide.

Finally, the significant increases in technological capabilities, as well as the increased threats posed by terrorism trials and other high-visibility cases, have an impact on establishing priorities.

You have a 30 year career in federal law enforcement, including 24 years with the U.S. Marshals Service. How does that experience shape your role and priorities as USMS Director?

Having worked in the Marshals at many levels, and then served as the Attorney General’s Federal Detention Trustee during the past Administration, enables me to identify and drive to solutions quickly. I have worked in each Marshals area of responsibility: Judicial Security, Witness Security, Prisoner Operations, Fugitives and Asset Forfeiture, and at many different levels including deputy, management, in the field, and at headquarters.

Because I served in four judicial districts, from Deputy to Chief Deputy, I was able to see first hand not only the commonalities, but also the differences that can exist between the districts. Understanding field operations provides a great baseline for identifying issues and determining which strategies will result
in improvements.

Additionally, during my tenure with the Marshals, I served as the Chief of Court Security Programs for a number of years. This position provided me the opportunity to work at the national level, giving me experience in working with several committees of the Judicial Conference, but primarily with the Space and Security Committee, now the Judicial Security Committee. My responsibilities as chief included administering the Court Security Officers Program and physical security of judicial space. Also during this time, several high-visibility trials and incidents occurred, including the first World Trade Center trials, the Oklahoma City bombing and subsequent McVeigh trial.

These experiences enable me to respond to and address concerns quickly and more comprehensively. My experience throughout the years has been that, while Washington is often needed to provide support, often the best problem-solving happens “on the ground,” at the district level.

As you know, along the United States southwestern border, the transportation and detention of offenders is a logistical challenge with U.S. Marshals often driving long distances to deliver prisoners for court appearances. As a former federal detention trustee do you have any insights on how to improve this situation?

When I served as the former Federal Detention Trustee, I had the opportunity to work with the Judicial Ad Hoc Detention Working Group and Judge Henry Hudson. The work of this group was accomplished in three phases: assessing the housing situation using the jail utilization report on the percentage of prisoners needed for court and the average distance from the court location; surveying the districts to get further input to combine with the data collected; and developing a website where the information and assessment could be published along with information that would help districts work through detention issues, which is currently managed by the OFDT. A majority of concerns were tied to the lack of communication and information at the district level about where prisoners were being held. There was a real need for problem-solving on how there could be better access to prisoners for pretrial services, public defenders, and U.S. attorneys.

Many districts have experienced critical detention space issues at one time or another. Part of the Trustee’s job is to monitor the court appearance status of each prisoner to determine the best housing option. For example, if a prisoner’s court case is active, we would do our best to house him or her nearby. On the other hand, if a significant delay in a court case is expected, or if a prisoner has been sentenced but is awaiting designation to a corrections facility, we would move them further away to free-up bed space near the court. Recently, a new, large, private facility has opened in Nevada, providing relief to the District of Arizona and the Southern District of California. In addition, a large number of beds have become available in California, also helping the situation.

The Prisoner Operations Division and Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation System continue to develop new transportation routes and other ways to improve the situation along the southwest border.

Federal judges receive hundreds of threats and inappropriate communications each year. How does the USMS treat these threats? What could judges be doing to assist the USMS in dealing with these threats and inappropriate communications?

The Marshals Service takes all threats and inappropriate communications very seriously. Each inappropriate communication is analyzed individually, assessed, and investigated to determine the level of risk. Once this is done, the appropriate action is taken to protect and/or mitigate any risk to the judge. The Marshals Service opened the Office of Protective Intelligence—Threat Management Center (TMC) in September 2007 to serve as the “intake” function and coordination center for these cases. The TMC provides centralized guidance, oversight, and recommendations using what we refer to as a behavior-based approach for investigators who conduct protective investigations in the field. The TMC is staffed by Marshals criminal investigators, intelligence research specialists, and investigative analysts. In fiscal year 2010, the TMC and district personnel processed or investigated 1,394 inappropriate communications.

The Marshals Service derives its authority to conduct protective investigations from Title 28 USC§ 566(e)(1)(A). The Court Security Improvement Act of 2007 gave us additional tools to conduct and pursue protective investigations. Though we collect and process all threats using our Justice Detainee Information System database, we are in the process of acquiring new tools to enhance our predictive analysis capability. We are developing a comprehensive Threat Management Information System (TMIS) with multiple tools as a “relational” database, built exclusively to support protective investigations and intelligence analysis. TMIS will have more robust tools that will further our ability to collect and review information and intelligence to identify and analyze threats, as well as reveal trends. TMIS also will provide a “persistent stare” capability to review the Internet for potential threats from individuals and domestic terrorist groups, such as the “sovereign citizen movement.”

Judges and staff should take all inappropriate communications seriously, and should report all threats and inappropriate communications to the Marshals Service in a timely manner. All negative, persistent, prolific communications, as well as those with an unusual direction of interest should be reported. Even if not actionable, this behavior is part of pattern that is valuable for an evaluation or assessment of a subject. Judges and their staff should preserve all evidence for the Marshals Service including letters, emails, and phone messages. Also, Marshals Service district offices offer annual security awareness training for the entire court family.

How does the USMS use computer technology in judicial security? Is our culture’s pervasive social media a help or a hindrance in this?

As you would expect, computer technology is used both in the physical security of courthouses and in the investigation of threats and inappropriate communications.

The explosion of the use of social media on the Internet has created a number of security challenges for the judiciary. Social media, along with the availability of personal information and public records on the Internet, create an environment of additional security risks. One such risk is the potential for the release of sensitive information. This could be as simple as a family member inadvertently posting information about the family’s home. These items can jeopardize the security of a federal judge.

Public information continues to pose challenges to the court family. For many years, the Marshals Service has advised the people we protect to have unlisted phone numbers and use the courthouse address instead of the home address whenever possible. Technology has provided greater access to information. Through computers, individuals can plug a little information into a public record search engine and receive a lot of information. For that reason, we strongly urge judges and other officials to complete “opt-out” forms for individual information providers. We have coordinated with the Administrative Office so that the opt-out information is available for judges to follow. Judges also need to be very conscious about who they give information to, and even where purchases are made. This is because data aggregators are constantly compiling and selling updated personal information to public record sites, for example, matching credit card numbers with home mailing addresses.

We have also recently begun briefing judicial officers and staff on the risk posed by “geo-tagging” of photographs posted to the Internet. GPS-enabled cameras, as well as iPhones, embed the longitude and latitude of the location a picture was taken. If, for example, a photo of a judge and his or her family is posted on certain Internet sites, someone can grab the geo-tag and identify the location of a private residence.

Just as with e-mail or phone calls, if a judge becomes aware of a threat or inappropriate communication on the Web, he or she should immediately notify the Marshals.