After several Congressional inquiries over fatal shootings along the southwestern border where Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers fired their weapons in pursuit of border interlopers or rock-throwing teenagers, CBP commissioned an independent review of these incidents and of policy guidelines for use of force. The Police Executive Research Forum for guidance on law enforcement policies and best practices completed the review in February 2013 and published findings and recommendations in late May 2014, when CBP reformed its policies.
Report on CBP Use of Force
The review addressed concerns over two incidents of avoidable use of excessive force where officers fired into moving cars or at people throwing objects not capable of causing serious physical injury or death. To prevent such incidents, the review recommended several changes to CBP use of force rules:
- Report all rock-throwing and other assaults on CBP officers for a better sense of the threats they encounter in their work.
- Mandate investigation of all uses of deadly force to deter bad practices that may develop from a “no harm, no-foul” policy that limits investigations to incidents of actual death or serious injury
- Equip CBP officers with nonlethal weapons as alternatives to either retreat or deadly force.
- Equip CBP officers with helmets and face shields and their boats and vehicles with protective cages or screening for better protection from rock assaults.
- Restrict use of firearms for shooting at vehicles to incidents of necessary self-defense or protection of other persons present.
- Train officers to defuse conflicts, to protect themselves from rock throwers, but to use deadly force only when rock throwers can cause serious injury or death.
Results of CBP Review
CBP use of force policy now requires safe tactics and techniques that control confrontational incidents effectively, protect and preserve the safety of officers and the public, and minimize any risk of unintended personal injury or property damage. Whenever reasonable, officers should not place themselves where they have no alternative to use of deadly force
The dangerous southwestern borderland is an unforgiving smuggler’s terrain. In securing it, CBP has a duty to avoid unnecessary use of deadly force that makes it even more unsafe. CBP willingness to bear public accountability by reforming rules for use of deadly force is commendable. The agency now will protect and serve the public better on both sides of the border.
Public Response to CBP Review
The review initiated by CBP has been met in an overall positive manner although there are two sides to the argument. There has been a large show of support for adapting more non-lethal tactics when practicing border control. Conversely, others feel that these new guidelines may be too stringent and that officers in the field should be able to use their own personal level of discernment when approaching situations. The overall effectiveness of these new policies will be tested in the coming months as the relentless task of patrolling the U.S. border shows no sign of slowing down. What we can be hopeful for is the overall safety of both our border patrol officers and any individuals who pose no threat to others.
Beeraj Patel, Esq.
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