In the wake of three murders and the recent attack on a federal prosecutor in a New York courtroom, a group representing the nation’s federal prosecutors is calling for stepped-up security, including home alarms, self-defense training and the right to carry firearms.
Additionally, the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys, which represents the country’s 5,400 federal prosecutors, wants secure parking for prosecutors, particularly those who handle dangerous criminal cases.
“Statistically, we are threatened more than judges,” said Steve Cook, chairman of the NAAUSA security committee and a Tennessee federal prosecutor. “Security is a very important issue for us.”
In a recent NAAUSA survey (.pdf) on security issues answered by 1,257 federal prosecutors — or 23 percent of the total work force — 46 percent said they had been threatened or assaulted due to their job, and 81 percent said someone in their office had been threatened.
The survey showed that 78 percent rated secure parking as very important, and 42 percent rated home alarms very important. Eighty-one percent of respondents believe Assistant U.S. Attorneys should be authorized by the Department of Justice to carry firearms if they so choose.
NAAUSA officials last month met with Deputy Attorney General Mark Filip about security concerns for prosecutors and shared the survey results with him.
Additionally, the group plans to step up lobbying efforts next year for a bill to fund some of their proposals. Heavy lobbying last year led to prosecutors being partially included in the Court Security Act of 2007, which was originally intended only for judges.
Under the legislation, prosecutors will not get the same security measures as judges, such as home alarms; however they will now be protected from having their driver’s license information made public.
“Prosecutors are on the front lines like federal agents; they are the face of federal law enforcement,” said Peter Prieto, a former Miami federal prosecutor and chairman of Holland & Knight‘s litigation practice. “They are dealing with pretty dangerous people and have a legitimate gripe. For the job they do, they deserve more protection.”
In 2001, prominent Seattle prosecutor Tom Wales was gunned down in his basement. The case is still unsolved.
Later that year, Chicago federal prosecutor Michael Messer was shot and killed after leaving a training program put on by the Justice Department’s National Advocacy Center at the University of South Carolina. Four teens were later convicted of killing Messer as part of a robbery spree.
Then in 2003, Baltimore prosecutor Jonathan Luna was murdered after leaving his office late at night, his body found face down in a creek with 36 stab wounds.
In March, another federal prosecutor was the victim of violence — this time in a courtroom. Carolyn Pokorny, 38, chief of narcotics for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, in Brooklyn, was attacked by a drug defendant facing a life sentence who had somehow smuggled a razor into the courtroom. Pokorny was bruised but not seriously hurt. Both Pokorny and the office spokesman in Brooklyn declined comment, citing the pending case.
Secure parking is the most vital issue for prosecutors, according to survey results. In some areas such as New York, prosecutors have secured parking. But in other areas, like Miami — a district known for prosecuting some of the most dangerous criminals — prosecutors must walk to public parking lots, often late at night.
“It may sound like a small thing, but it’s a big deal,” said Kendall Coffey, a former Miami U.S. Attorney who is now a partner at Coffey Burlington in Miami. “I would endorse the concept of secured parking. Going to a public lot is an unnecessary risk. You’re a sitting duck.”
Coffey was less enthused about prosecutors carrying firearms.
Currently, prosecutors can apply to the Justice Department in individual situations to be deputized and get a firearm. The problem with that, according to the NAAUSA, is that the process, usually, takes two weeks, and time is of the essence when a threat is made.
The NAAUSA says the Department of Justice has not been supportive on security issues in past years.
In a statement, Ken Melson, director of the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for United States Attorneys, said the DOJ has already begun addressing some of the issues in the survey.
“We have modified policy to allow AUSAs who hold state carry permits to carry those weapons between offices while on government duty or when using a government vehicle,” he said. He added that secure parking is provided on a case-by-case basis. “AUSA safety is an important priority to [the Executive Office] and the Department,” he said.