Border Patrol To Keep Controversial Deadly Force Rules

FILE - In this Jan. 19, 2007 file photo, the U.S. Border Patrol detains a large group of suspected immigrants at the Arizona-Mexico border in Sasabe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

In this Jan. 19, 2007 file photo, the U.S. Border Patrol detains a large group of suspected immigrants at the Arizona-Mexico border in Sasabe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

November 5, 2013

Border Patrol Chief Mike Fisher says the agency will continue to allow its agents to shoot at rock-throwers and vehicles, despite an independent law enforcement review recommending against the practice.

“We shouldn’t have carve-outs in our policy and say, except for this, except for that,” Fisher said in an interview with the Associate Press. “Just to say that you shouldn’t shoot at rock-throwers or vehicles for us, in our environment, was very problematic and could potentially put Border Patrol agents in danger.”

Rocks are the most common weapon used to assault agents, according to the Homeland Security department’s inspector general.

As the Border Patrol has grown over the past several years to become the nation’s largest police force, it has racked up multiple reports of abuse of force, particularly along the U.S.-Mexico border. At least 19 people have been killed by the Border Patrol since 2010. No one has been held accountable for those deaths.

The Border Patrol began a review of its use-of-force policy last year, after a spate of shooting deaths, including a 16-year-old boy who was shot by an agent 11 times after apparently throwing rocks at him. Several members of Congress also demanded an investigation by the Homeland Security department, which oversees the agency.

The report, released in September, proposed reforms to the Border Patrol’s use-of-force policy, but those reforms were all redacted in the version of the report that was publicly released. Additional recommendations from an outside review by the Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit group that advises law enforcement on policy, weren’t released at all.

In the interview with the AP, Fisher spoke publicly about the independent recommendations for the first time, describing them as “very restrictive.” He said that the Border Patrol would still allow its agents to use deadly force against people throwing rocks, and those in vehicles who pose a threat.

In September, the Border Patrol announced some changes in the wake of criticism of its policies, including additional training for recruits and restricting the use of deadly force to when there is “reasonable belief” that the subject “poses an imminent danger of death or serious physical injury” to the agent or another person.

But the agency still hasn’t released its full use-of-force policy. It’s also failed to address what critics say is a culture of impunity that allows agents to patrol unchecked. The ACLU, for example, recently filed a complaint with Homeland Security about alleged abuses by agents on “roving patrols,” in which they pulled over drivers, who say they were harassed and threatened with violence without explanation. Some were American citizens.

The ACLU’s complaint came weeks after the Border Patrol settled a lawsuit in Washington state over the same practice.

Customs and Border Protection has said that the agency works to ensure that its agents’ use of force is “appropriate and consistent with applicable laws, agency standards and procedures.” In the AP interview, Fisher said that Border Patrol agents, who are responsible for securing thousands of miles of remote territory, face different challenges than other law enforcement agencies.

“You don’t want to just start shooting indiscriminately at a vehicle and try to blow out tires like they do on TV, but our environment is totally different,” Fisher said. “In many cases, unlike a concrete jungle, you have a very narrow trail and the Border Patrol agent doesn’t always have the ability to get out of the way.”

Before the end of the year, Congress is expected to take up an immigration bill passed by the Senate in June that would provide $3 billion to Customs and Border Protection for additional agents, as well as drones and other equipment.

Sarah Childress

Sarah Childress, Series Senior Editor, FRONTLINE



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