Customs and Border Protection Conceals Scathing Audit of Border Patrol’s Use of Force Policy

Written by on March 3, 2014 in Enforcement with 0 Comments

8491551847_5489f19345_bIn response to mounting allegations of unwarranted violence by U.S. Border Patrol agents, including culpability in over 40 border-related deaths, Congress ordered an investigation of U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) use of force policies and practices. This investigation included an internal assessment by CBP, a review by the Office of Inspector General (OIG), and an independent evaluation by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), a nonprofit police research organization. Although these reports were completed last year, the substantive details remain concealed behind redacted text or, in the case of the PERF report, undisclosed altogether.

Despite CBP’s efforts to bury the findings of the PERF report, immigration advocacy groups continue lobbying for the release of the report, and several have requested the release of the report under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). However, despite calls for transparency, CBP’s attempted stranglehold on the report continues.

Last week, however, the Los Angeles Times obtained a leaked copy of both the PERF report and CBP’s internal response. According to the newspaper, the PERF report criticizes Border Patrol agents for provoking violence along the border by manufacturing dangerous circumstances in order to justify the use of violence. For instance, the PERF report purportedly cites instances in which agents voluntarily stood in front of moving vehicles and willingly remained within striking distance of rock throwers in order to use lethal force based on an “imminent threat.”

In light of these findings, the PERF audit proposes reforms to reduce the needless use of force along the border, including limitations on how and when Border Patrol agents are permitted to use firearms. These suggested reforms include a recommendation that would restrict Border Patrol agents from shooting at moving vehicles. In addition, in response to findings of excessive force against rock throwers, PERF calls on CBP to prohibit agents from shooting at people throwing objects that cannot result in serious physical injury.

Although PERF’s proposals would bring CBP in line with other law enforcement agencies, CBP’s internal response reportedly rejects these recommendations, arguing that restrictions on Border Patrol agents’ capacity to use lethal force would jeopardize agent safety—a claim reportedly disputed and discredited by the PERF report. After all, these recommendations do not prohibit the use of force completely, but rather propose general restrictions intended to curb unnecessary violence.

While CBP stalls in implementing reforms proposed by PERF and the Office of Inspector General, violence along the border persists. Less than two weeks ago, a Border Patrol agent shot and killed Mexican national Jesus Flores-Cruz outside of San Diego after he allegedly threw rocks at the shooter and his colleagues. Such deaths can be prevented.

By concealing the PERF report and refusing to comply with its recommendations, CBP promotes violence along the border and facilitates a culture of impunity among its agents. It is time for CBP to comply with requests to release the PERF report for public consumption and implement reforms to its use of force policy.

Photo by CBP Photography.

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