Immigration & Labor

Weapons Use By Border Agents Declines

Use of firearms and other weapons by US Customs and Border Protection agents fell 30 percent since October, following newly instituted use-of-force reforms, the agency's commissioner reported Wednesday.

Tactical, equipment, and training changes helped slash the number of times agents used force from 542, over the first half of fiscal year 2014, to 385 throughout the same period this year, commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske announced during a Brookings Institution speech.

The agency, mired in longterm controversy over the shootings of unarmed rock-throwers, sometimes across the border into Mexico, fought to keep a “scathing” 2013 report by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) under wraps, initially refusing to release but ultimately publishing its findings. Among them: agents intentionally stepped in front of moving vehicles to justify shooting at them and, when agents did fire their weapons, the agency demonstrated a “lack of diligence” investigating those incidences.

PERF was by no means the first to criticize the Border Patrol for excessive force. A separate Department of Homeland Security's Office of the Inspector General review, released in Fall 2013 and sparked by an Investigative Fund project, found that agents “do not understand” when and to what extent they are authorized to use force, and that they received inadequate training on the many less-lethal options.

Changes since these reports included increased use of body cameras, alterations to the agency's training program, and guidelines instructing agents to first retreat if rocks are thrown and to avoid shooting at people in cars.

About the reporter

Darren Ankrom

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