December 28, 2022
By Bill Raftery
NOTE: This article was originally published on September 29, 2021. However recent interest in the subject of attacks on federal judges and recently passed legislation to protect federal judicial information has increased interest inquiries on this topic, thus we are republishing.
One of the more common requests that NCSC receives is for data regarding the number of threats directed toward judges and security incidents in state courts. Unlike our nation’s federal courts, which have access to this type of information, there is no national repository of state court threats and incidents.
A major function of the U.S. Marshals Service Judicial Security Division is to keep track of threats and incidents for Federal Courts. For instance, the Division reports that the number of threats and inappropriate communications against federal judges and other protected persons in fiscal 2020 was 4,261.
For many years, court leaders have sought for the creation of a national state court security incident reporting system. In fact, recommendations for a national system came out of a major Summit on Court Security in 2006 in the aftermath of the 2005 Atlanta courthouse shooting.
Many states, however, are unable to generate threat and incident data, and there is no national-level data. Why? There are several reasons:
- According to a survey conducted by NCSC in 2020, only about half of all reporting jurisdictions indicate that their courts are required to report threats and incidents to a central repository. Only 51% of appellate courts, 57% of general jurisdiction trial courts, and 47% of limited jurisdiction trial courts are required to make such reports.
- 55% of reporting jurisdictions indicate that a standard threat and incident reporting form is in place for their courts.
- There is no national, universally agreed-upon definition of a court security “threat” or “incident.” For example, some only would report if the threat or incident occurred on court property.
The need for data collection was a central feature of an article written by former Maryland Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera and Rhode Island State Court Administrator Joseph Baxter as co-chairs of the CCJ/COSCA Court Security and Emergency Preparedness Committee. Absent a national system, the only previous nationwide data in state courts relied on newspaper reports. As presented in this 2012 "Courthouse Security Incidents Trending Upward" Trends article, the data did seem to indicate that the number of incidents had been rising between the years 1970 and 2010. That data was also a key portion of the 2013 Status of Court Security in State Courts: A National Perspective.
How is your court collecting data on court security incidents? Follow the National Center for State Courts on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. and share your experiences!
For more information, contact Knowledge@ncsc.org or call 800-616-6164.