WASHINGTON — A Justice Department audit released Monday found "critical deficiencies" in the department's ability to protect federal judges and prosecutors as threats against them escalate.
The number of threats against the nation's judges and prosecutors has more than doubled since 2003, rising to 1,278 in 2008, according to the U.S. Marshals Service, which oversees security for judges and court personnel.
Many judges and prosecutors do not consistently or promptly report threats or other harassing communications, according to the audit by Glenn Fine, the department's inspector general. His report estimates that the actual number might be as much as 25 percent higher.
When judges and prosecutors do come forward, marshals don't consistently provide adequate protection and fail to effectively coordinate investigations with other agencies, the report says.
"We found critical deficiencies in the department's threat response program," Fine said in a statement.
U.S. Marshals spokesman Jeff Carter said that the service "fully cooperated" with Fine's investigators and that it has "made great strides over the past few years" in its judicial security mission, but that "there is always room to perfect the process."
Marshals have taken steps to combat threats, including opening a high-tech threat-management center in suburban Washington and training hundreds of local police officers.
Officials blame the trend on disgruntled defendants whose anger is fueled by the Internet, more terrorism and gang cases in federal court, and frustration at the economic crisis.