U.S. border agency to amend use-of-force practices after killings

PHOENIX Wed Sep 25, 2013 9:21pm EDT

Related Topics

PHOENIX (Reuters) - The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, under fire for being too quick to use lethal force, will train officers to defuse threats following the deaths of at least 19 people since 2010 in incidents on the northern and southern borders.

The changes announced on Wednesday came in response to a letter signed by 16 members of Congress in May 2012, calling for a review of use-of-force incidents and policy, prompted by the death of a Mexican man struck with a baton and shocked by officers as he resisted deportation in San Diego, California, three years ago.

The 19 deaths included six individuals killed while on the Mexican side of the border, among them 16-year-old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, who was shot from behind by the Border Patrol at least seven times last October after allegedly throwing rocks at agents, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

A comprehensive review of the use of force conducted by Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the nonprofit Police Executive Research Forum and the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General in recent months has resulted in more than 90 recommendations, some of which the agency has begun implementing.

These include steps to provide agents and officers "with more options — whether through equipment, training or tactics — to handle threats along the border and help agents and officers de-escalate confrontations," the agency said in a document posted online on Wednesday.

Other changes to follow within CBP, the nation's largest law enforcement agency with more than 45,000 agents and officers, include an overhaul of its basic training curriculum to prepare officers to "recognize potentially dangerous situations and take alternative approaches," the agency said.

"Implementation of these recommendations will standardize CBP policies, practices, procedures, reporting, and oversight of the use of force program and its application," CBP said.

"Additionally, CBP will continue to evaluate the use of force program and practices to ensure the safety of our law enforcement personnel and the public with whom we interact and protect," it added, noting that "excessive force is strictly prohibited."

A landmark immigration overhaul passed by the Democratic-led U.S. Senate in June seeks to tighten security on the U.S. border and a path to citizenship for millions of unauthorized immigrants currently living in the shadows, although it faces scant chance of passage in its current form in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

The ACLU had questioned whether lethal force used by border agents could have been avoided through the use of different tactics or training, better supervision and the use of non-lethal weapons, as well as better adherence to policy or changes in policy.

The group, which has called for policy revisions including a statement that recognizes the "paramount value of human life," and the implementation of oversight and accountability systems to ensure allegations of misconduct are investigated, on Wednesday called the steps taken by CBP an important advance but said they were "limited in scope and vision."

"The biggest missing piece here is clear and transparent accountability for officers involved in use-of-force incidents that lead to serious physical injury or death," Vicki B. Gaubeca, director of the ACLU of New Mexico's Regional Center for Border Rights, said in a statement.

"Without a commitment to end the culture of impunity at CBP, the agency's good first steps will lead nowhere."

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Ken Wills)

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (2)
rbodell wrote:
whqt do you expect when most illegals are illegal because they are rapists, murderers and drug mules bringing drugs into the country. They would not be risking their lives if they could come legally. You treat criminals like criminals. When they resist you do not say please.

Sep 27, 2013 10:43am EDT  --  Report as abuse
EastBerlin wrote:
Such a bunch of Bull. Anyone that tries to enter the US illegally is a
person committing a federal crime. To shoot a criminal that is resisting or combating US police or border guards is the price the illegal should have to pay. If you can’t pay the price, don’t do the crime. We need an all new congress with backbone, not the weak bunch we have now. Stand up and defend your country!!!

Sep 30, 2013 2:52am EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.