Polic­ing the Bor­der Pa­trol

Los Angeles Times - - OPINION -

Two years ago, a scathing in­de­pen­dent re­port by law en­force­ment ex­perts found that the U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion agency had failed to fully in­ves­ti­gate all 67 uses of deadly force, in­clud­ing 19 killings, by its agents from Jan­uary 2010 through Oc­to­ber 2012, most oc­cur­ring along the south­west bor­der with Mexico. That re­port, which ac­cused the agency of a “lack of dili­gence” in its in­ves­ti­ga­tions, put fed­eral of­fi­cials on the de­fen­sive and sparked an in­ter­nal re­view.

But when the re­view was fi­nally com­pleted last month, it ab­solved vir­tu­ally all the agents in vir­tu­ally all the shoot­ings. Oral rep­ri­mands were ap­par­ently is­sued to two agents, and one case re­mains open; other than that, no dis­ci­pline was meted out.

Is that rea­son­able? An agent who killed an un­armed 15-year-old Mex­i­can boy by shoot­ing him in the face af­ter a rock-throw­ing in­ci­dent near El Paso was cleared. So was an agent who killed a rock-throw­ing 17year-old near No­gales.

It’s hard to know whether the agency’s de­ci­sions were rea­son­able. Were it not for leaks to jour­nal­ists, lit­tle of this would even be known, be­cause the Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion agency has tried to keep the re­port’s find­ings and the sub­se­quent re­views un­der wraps. The ini­tial re­port was re­leased only af­ter the Los An­ge­les Times re­ported on its ex­is­tence. And the in­ter­nal re­views ended a month ago, yet that fact just came to light — and there are still few de­tails avail­able. That opac­ity is un­ac­cept­able in an open so­ci­ety. How can the public as­sess gov­ern­ment ac­tions if the de­tails are hid­den? How are Amer­i­cans to de­ter­mine whether jus­tice is served when there is no public ac­count­ing?

The Bor­der Pa­trol is in essence a fed­eral po­lice force, and its use of deadly force should be viewed through a sim­i­lar prism. Bor­der agents, like lo­cal po­lice of­fi­cers, of­ten find them­selves in dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tions, and oc­ca­sion­ally must use lethal force to pro­tect them­selves and the public. But that doesn’t mean so­ci­ety owes them lim­it­less def­er­ence or that their ac­tions should be con­sid­ered be­yond ques­tion. Fir­ing guns across borders in re­sponse to rock throw­ing is no more ac­cept­able than it would have been for the po­lice in Fer­gu­son, Mo., to have fired on pro­jec­tile-heav­ing protesters.

Af­ter the in­de­pen­dent re­port ques­tioned Bor­der Pa­trol ac­tions and poli­cies, the agency changed some of its di­rec­tives to agents, and in April it re­ported a 30% drop in use-of-force in­ci­dents. That is a welcome change. But the gov­ern­ment also must be more forth­com­ing about the in­ci­dents that do oc­cur, take dis­ci­plinary ac­tion where ap­pro­pri­ate and en­lighten the public on how it holds its agents ac­count­able.

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