ACLU Statement on Reported Audit of Border Patrol’s Use-of-Force Policies

Following today’s Los Angeles Times story on a report prepared last year criticizing U.S. Customs and Border Protection use-of-force policies and practices, the ACLU of SDIC urges Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to immediately release the full report and implement the report’s recommendations, which to date the agency has spurned.

The report at issue was prepared and issued by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), an independent nonprofit organization specializing in law enforcement best practices.  Although PERF provided CBP with the report in February 2013, the document and its recommendations have been withheld from the public. The San Diego ACLU recently filed a FOIA request to obtain a full and unredacted copy of the report but to date the agency has not responded to the request.

The scathing report—which was commissioned by CBP itself—confirms what civil rights organizations have been charging for years: Border Patrol agents’ use of force is often excessive and arbitrary.

Since January 2010, at least 28 people have died in encounters with CBP agents. At least ten of these people were U.S. citizens and six of them were in Mexico when fatally shot. In none of these cases has an agent or officer faced any public consequences. Just one week ago, a U.S. Border Patrol agent fatally shot a migrant near Otay Mesa; the agent alleged that the migrant had thrown rocks. According to the Los Angeles Times article, the PERF report suggests that border agents deliberately provoked confrontations that led to avoidable violence.

Importantly, the report appears to raise questions about Border Patrol practices that unnecessarily endanger federal agents and innocent bystanders alike.  Among other recommendations, PERF advised CBP to train agents to “get out of the way” rather than confront moving cars and rocks.

In addition to its recommendations on improved use-of-force training and steps to avoid lethal force except in life-threatening situations, the PERF report apparently cites Border Patrol for a “lack of diligence” in investigating agents who have fired their weapons. The report thus casts serious doubt on CBP’s internal investigation of use-of-force incidents, and recommends that immigration enforcement agencies revise their policies and procedures so that these incidents are properly investigated from the outset.

Border Patrol’s immediate response to the published news article was that implementing PERF’s recommendations would endanger agents. But the report does not recommend that agents always avoid using deadly force. Rather, it rightly recommends that deadly force be limited to those occasions when it is truly necessary.

It is troubling that CBP, which commissioned PERF’s review of the agency’s use-of-force policies, is now crying foul because it does not like the findings. This is a further indication of how important transparency and oversight within the agency is. It does not serve public safety or our democratic principles when abuses of authority are swept under the rug. The public has a right to read the PERF report and better understand the use-of-force policies and procedures used by the nation’s largest law enforcement agency.

Read the ACLU’s Use-of-Force Recommendations here.