by Ian Ferguson
In order to prevent misconduct by U.S. Border Patrol agents and provide clarity for investigating potential cases of abuse, agents could soon be required to wear video cameras.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will be testing a variety of body-worn video cameras at the U.S. Border Patrol training facility in Artesia, New Mexico beginning October 1, according to CBP commissioner Gil Kerlikowske.
Kerlikowske held a press conference in Washington, D.C. on September 18 to announce the agency’s plan to restructure its internal review process and increase transparency.
The agency has come under fire for being slow to investigate use-of-force incidents among personnel.
Former Seattle police chief Kerlikowske said he’s working to address those complaints. In May, he ordered the release of a report that raised questions about the use of deadly force within the agency. More recently, he formed an internal affairs department to conduct investigations, and at the press conference last Thursday he announced the creation of an integrity advisory panel headed by former head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency Karen Tandy and New York police commissioner William Bratton.
Kerlikowske appointed Mark Morgan as head of CBP internal affairs a week prior to the press conference, which Morgan also attended.
Morgan said an initial review of use-of-force and other abuse cases turned up 155 cases that merit further investigation. Of those, 14 cases involved a shooting of some kind.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently granted CBP the authority to be the first to investigate incidents of possible criminal misconduct within its ranks. Formerly, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement – another department within DHS – investigated complaints before CBP did.
“We now have the primary authority to conduct these independent, internal criminal investigations. That authority translates to a more timely and a more transparent process to investigate misconduct,” Kerlikowske said.
When asked how putting CBP in charge of its own internal investigations would help matters, Kerlikowske responded that the shift of responsibility makes the agency more accountable.
“If you don’t have the authority it’s pretty hard to be held accountable,” he said. “Now it’s going to be up to the public, the secretary [of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson] and others to make sure I’m fulfilling those promises that I’ve been making.”
The wearable camera program will be an aid in investigating incidents of misconduct. For years, activists have demanded the technology to keep abuse by border patrol agents in check. Kerlikowske said the process of implementing the camera would be complicated because of issues of practicality as well as privacy.
“We’ll be looking at what are the best cameras, what system works the best and then we’ll move on to the other phases of testing. There are some complicated issues around privacy: when is the camera turned off or on when you’re interviewing a juvenile or a person who is a victim of domestic violence. All of those things need to be worked out,” Kerlikowske said.
Don’t expect to see customs officials at border crossings wearing cameras anytime soon – the program is restricted to border patrol agents for now. However, Kerlikowske said efforts to make CBP more accountable apply across the board.
“People have to be held accountable for whatever use of force they use as not only a border patrol agent but also as a member of customs and border protection,” Kerlikowske said.
When asked to give a timeline for when the cameras might be put into use, both Kerlikowske and Morgan were non-committal, citing the complicated process of testing and creating a policy for their use.
Testing at the training facility in New Mexico will continue through December.