The Arizona Republic

Use of force by bor­der agents falls


The num­ber of Bor­der Pa­trol use-of­force in­ci­dents is on track to drop by nearly 30 per­cent this fis­cal year, Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion Com­mis­sioner Gil Ker­likowske said Wed­nes­day.

Bor­der Pa­trol agents have used force 385 times as of March 31, the mid­way point of the cur­rent fis­cal year, which be­gan Oct. 1, Ker­likowske said.

The de­crease is “en­cour­ag­ing,” he said, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing that at-

tacks against Bor­der Pa­trol agents are on the up­swing.

Even so, CBP of­fi­cers and Bor­der Pa­trol agents have killed five peo­ple since Oc­to­ber, ac­cord­ing to an on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion by The Ari­zona Repub­lic.

That brings to 51the num­ber of peo­ple killed by CBP agents or of­fi­cers since 2005. The five deaths in the first six months are equiv­a­lent to the an­nual av­er­age for the past decade.

Two of those deaths oc­curred in Texas, and one each in Ari­zona, Cal­i­for­nia and Wash­ing­ton.

Ker­likowske at­trib­uted the over­all de­crease to new poli­cies aimed at im­prov­ing trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity at U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion, which in­cludes the Bor­der Pa­trol, as well as the im­ple­men­ta­tion of new train­ing and tech­nol­ogy.

“His­tor­i­cally our de­fault po­si­tion af­ter some­thing was to oc­cur was to cir­cle the wag­ons and say ‘no com­ment,’ ” Ker­likowske said dur­ing a speech at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion, a think tank in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

“One of the first things I did as com­mis­sioner was to change this to make our po­lices and pro­cesses more trans­par­ent to the peo­ple we serve.”

Some crit­ics, how­ever, ques­tion whether use-of-force in­ci­dents have ac­tu­ally de­clined and re­main skep­ti­cal that CBP has be­come more trans­par­ent un­der Ker­likowske.

CBP does not re­lease use-of-force statis­tics, so it’s dif­fi­cult to as­sess whether they have ac­tu­ally de­clined, said James Duff Lyall, a lawyer with the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union who is based in Tucson.

“It’s es­sen­tially an­other ex­am­ple of the agency say­ing, ‘Look trust us. Take our word for it,’ ’’ Lyall said. “But by now it should be clear this is not an agency whose word you can take. This is not an agency that has that kind of cred­i­bil­ity.”

Lyall said his of­fice con­tin­ues to “re­ceive calls on a weekly ba­sis from bor­der res­i­dents whose rights have been vi­o­lated by Bor­der Pa­trol agents with to­tal im­punity.”

Those com­plaints, which in­clude useof-force in­ci­dents, are ig­nored by Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity and CBP over­sight, he said.

“Not a lot has changed on the ground. He’s giv­ing lip ser­vice as he (has) done, frankly, from the mo­ment he’s ar­rived,” Lyall said.

Ker­likowske is mark­ing his first year as CBP com­mis­sioner. While in charge, he has taken steps to counter crit­i­cism that CBP and the Bor­der Pa­trol are not accountabl­e in the way use-of-force in­ci­dents are in­ves­ti­gated.

He said the Bor­der Pa­trol is in the process of re­vamp­ing its en­tire train­ing cur­ricu­lum by plac­ing agents in sim­u­lated sit­u­a­tions where they can prac­tice split-sec­ond de­ci­sions.

CBP is also eval­u­at­ing the use of body cam­eras by all agents and of­fi­cers in­volved in law en­force­ment, Ker­likowske said.

“We have a field test go­ing on of dif­fer­ent types of body-worn cam­eras to take a look at those,” he said. “Those seem to be very pos­si­ble right now in law en­force­ment. Of­ten that type of ev­i­dence can ex­on­er­ate an of­fi­cer but it adds a dif­fer­ent level of trans­parency.”

Lyall said body cam­eras can be a good tool to im­prove over­sight but only if they are used with ap­pro­pri­ate poli­cies.

“You have to have poli­cies that pre­serve the data, that en­sure that cam­eras are used in all sit­u­a­tions and not se­lec­tively, that the in­for­ma­tion col­lected is not used se­lec­tively by agents and that there are pri­vacy pro­tec­tions in place,” Lyall said.

The Repub­lic’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­cluded in­ci­dents in which:

Agents shot un­armed youths in the back who were flee­ing.

Agents’ ver­sions of events were dis­proved by by­standers’ cell­phone videos.

Agents fired across the bor­der into Mex­ico.

Th­ese and other in­ci­dents are in­cluded in a data­base of more than 15,000 pages of CBP, Home­land Se­cu­rity and FBI doc­u­ments ob­tained by The Repub­lic through Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act re­quests cov­er­ing use of force by agents and of­fi­cers from 2005 through last year.

In Septem­ber, top CBP of­fi­cials dis­closed that no agent or of­fi­cer had been for­mally dis­ci­plined in a use-of-force death since at least 2004.

There are fed­eral civil suits against the agents, filed by the fam­i­lies of those killed, un­der­way or pending in nine of the deaths.

“One of the first things I did as com­mis­sioner was to change this to make our po­lices and pro­cesses more trans­par­ent to the peo­ple we serve.” GIL KER­LIKOWSKE CUS­TOMS AND BOR­DER PRO­TEC­TION COM­MIS­SIONER "Not a lot has changed on the ground. He’s giv­ing lip ser­vice as he (has) done, frankly, from the mo­ment he’s ar­rived.” JAMES DUFF LYALL ACLU LAWYER, TALK­ING ABOUT THE CBP COM­MIS­SIONER

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