The border patrol union is condemning the decision announced yesterday by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that video cameras will be tested to monitor agents to curb the use of excessive force.
"This is a knee-jerk reaction by CBP that will result in agents hesitating to use force to defend themselves, resulting in more injured and murdered agents," Shawn Moran, vice president of the National Border Patrol Council (NBPC), said in a press statement. "It’s wrong to place these men and women in even greater danger than they’re already in to placate the demands of a few fringe organizations."
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) recommended the camera use.
Stuart Harris, vice president of the NBPC Local 1929 in El Paso, Texas, said the use of cameras is "concerning" to him for many reasons. The El Paso sector of the U.S.-Mexico border has been "designated as a high risk assault area" and the cameras may put his agents in unnecessary danger.
"It may cause the agents to hesitate, and in a deadly force situation, it could cost him his life.," Harris said. "I don’t want to see one of my agents killed because he hesitated."
The NBPC union cited privacy concerns and highlighted the extensive training in use of force that agents already receive.
The NBPC also pointed out that the millions of dollars in costs for the program comes "at a time when Border Patrol agents are lacking basic resources to secure the border and a long-overdue pay reform package."
"Where is the money coming from?" Harris asked. "Does that mean less agents in the field, and less technology to secure the border?"
He also said that under sequestration, agents are spending less time in the field.
The cameras will be used in conjunction with other technology to reduce the number of incidents in which force is used, the CBP said. It will also protect agents against false allegations.
The ACLU in a statement said the cameras are not enough.
The CBP’s announcement, "while representing an important advance, are limited in scope and vision," said Vicki B. Gaubeca, director of the ACLU of New Mexico's Regional Center for Border Rights.
"The biggest missing piece here is clear and transparent accountability for officers involved in use-of-force incidents that lead to serious physical injury or death. Without a commitment to end the culture of impunity at CBP, the agency's good first steps will lead nowhere," Gaubeca said.
The ACLU made recommendations to address the use of force and submitted them to the CBP, the Department of Homeland Security, and the White House. They include the body-worn cameras for border patrol agents. The group’s recommendations were posted on its site two days ago.
"If fully incorporated, our recommendations would help ensure that CBP officers are trained in and held to the highest professional law enforcement standards," Ruthie Epstein, an ACLU policy analyst said. "Given the political appetite for more enforcement at an already militarized border, we need a stronger commitment from CBP to radically reform its use of force practices than the two-page plan it issued today."
Harris said he doesn’t understand why the CBP is taking its recommendations from the ACLU.
"I guess it’s easier for them to bow down than to stand up for their agents," he said. "It’s one of the reasons morale is so low in this field. Agents have to watch out for attacks by its own agency."
The NBPC is now calling on the CBP to "open its books and provide the real story regarding the actual number of use of force incidents involving border patrol agents and whether force was justified."
Additionally, the union wants "transparency" regarding the criminal histories of those who have alleged agents’ use of force. It also is calling for a release of the number of assaults on border patrol agents.
The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General in a recent report said that of 21,000 records of possible excessive force, 1,187 were identified as "possible" allegations related to excessive force. They included "physical abuse (punching, kicking and pushing) during apprehension, and use of an electronic control device, baton or pepper spray."
The Inspector General report also detailed a total of 6,182 assaults on border patrol agents from 2006 to 2012 with most occurring on the southwest border. The report was initiated by Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.) and 15 other members of Congress after the death of an undocumented immigrant was revealed in a 2012 PBS media report.