Federal auditors have completed an analysis of U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s use of force policies. The audit shows some major problems within the agency that officials say they’re trying to correct.
Among its findings, the U.S. Office of Inspector General for the Homeland Security Department discovered that some agents and officers of the federal border agencies did not understand the use of force policies or when to use them. That surprised many people inside and outside the agency.
Shawn Moran is vice president of the Border Patrol’s national union.
"I was surprised by that as well. That’s one of the areas where the agency does a good job of letting agents know what their options are when it comes to use of force. This is something that is basically beaten into us in the academy,” he said.
The OIG was unable to pinpoint how many excessive use of force allegations have been filed against CBP agents. The agency’s own database doesn’t collect the data in any way that allows complaints to be tracked.
The OIG was able to determine how many times agents reacted to rocks hurled at them from the Mexican side of the border. In fiscal year 2012, there were 185 rock throwing assaults. Of those, agents did not use force to respond in 65 percent. They shot their weapons back at assailants in 12 percent and used less-than-lethal force in 23 percent of the cases.
Rock throwings have proven to be a contentious issue along the Southwest border. Border agents have killed 17 people and claimed self-defense in nearly every case. Several of those involved people hurling rocks at agents from across the border.
Last month, the FBI cleared Border Patrol agents in two killings along the Arizona border. The FBI deemed that the agents were justified because the victim and others involved were hurling rocks at them.
James Lyall is a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union. He said that while the report identifies some problems, like not knowing how many complaints exist, it leaves out others.
"It doesn’t make any mention of greater transparency or accountability or discipline for agents who do abuse their authority," he said.
The use of force policy for border agents came into question last year after a Mexican man, Anastasio Hernandez, died in their custody in 2010 after the agents at the San Ysidro Port of Entry used a Taser to subdue him. After that, members of Congress asked the Inspector General to investigate CBP’s policy.
A CBP spokeswoman said the agency is adding six days of use of force training and creating simulations to better train agents. Among the recommendations, a mock border wall to train agents on a real life border encounter. However, CBP ran out of funding before the wall was built.