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Border & Immigration

Surprising Conclusions In Border Patrol Use-Of-Force Report

Surprising Conclusions In Border Patrol Use-Of-Force Report
Surprising Conclusions In Border Patrol Use-Of-Force Report

Monday's release of a new report on the U.S. Border Patrol's use-of-force policies left many questions unanswered.

The Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security was asked by Congress to investigate the issue after the widely-publicized stun gun-related death of an immigrant at the San Diego Port of Entry in May 2010.

The report had some surprising conclusions:

  • Tthere was no clear system within the agency (astounding, given that it is a law enforcement agency, and is a government agency notorious for it's bureaucratic paperwork) to track use of force complaints or investigations.
  • Many agents were unclear as to the use-of-force policies.
  • Out of some 21,000 incident reports viewed by investigators, they found 1,187 cases of possible excessive force allegations, and 504 more that were inconclusive.

Reporters have been trying to find out what exactly the use-of-force policy is for years. Why? There have been many deaths. Since the beginning of 2010, with rock-throwing incidents against agents way down, and apprehensions at an all time low, Border Patrol agents or Customs and Border Protection officers have killed at least 21 people. Nineteen of those were killed along the Southwest border. That's a huge uptick in lethal episodes: three deaths were recorded in 2008, and one in 2009.

Speaking on Fronteras Desk partner station KPBS' midday news show, the Border Patrol's national union vice president Shawn Moran defended Customs and Border Patrol's training and policies:

That is the one area that I have no complaints. Every single agent knows clearly what the use of force options are and how to escalate and deescalate as necessary ... If we thought there was a lack of training, especially when it came to deadly force and less than legal force, we would be speaking out. But we think the agency does a good job of training its agents and they reluctantly use deadly force and any type of force only when necessary.

When asked why the OIG report concluded more training was necessary, Moran explained it was essentially an issue of how much an agent can carry in the field:

Because agents aren't required to carry every single type of less than lethal device in our arsenal, that may be why they are saying we need more training. If a Border Patrol agent were tracking a group of illegal aliens that had come into the country, and they had to carry every single less-than-lethal device, then they'd never catch anyone. Because we'd be so loaded down with equipment ... Often agents are out there miles from vehicles, miles from help. And they just don't have the ability to carry physically every single device that's in the vehicle.

Of course, that raises some questions: What do agents normally carry in the field? What does the agency recommend they carry? And how burdensome can carrying pepper spray or a stun gun be?

Reporters up and down the border, including Fronteras Desk, have requested information on the use-of-force policy for years, without success. The Department of Homeland Security has always resisted the release of this information, despite the fact that its department, which contains Border Patrol, Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Secret Service, makes up the largest law enforcement agency in the country.

The OIG report included information on the CBP's internal review of use-of-force policies, and a third-party review by an outside group. But all recommendations from those reviews were redacted from the report.

The American Civil Liberties Union has been at the forefront of criticism of the Border Patrol for these incidents and was quick to call yesterday's report disappointing. Chris Rickerd, policy counsel for the ACLU said,

While it's an important first step, this report represents a disappointing passing of the buck from the OIG to CBP's own pending internal use-of-force review for a substantive assessment of CBP's use-of-force policies.

In fact the ACLU is calling on the CBP to add more equipment to their daily arsenal -- a body-worn camera to record confrontations, and provide evidence in cases where excessive force is charged.