Don’t Forget CBP When Talking About Body Cameras
Manager of Policy and Advocacy
May 19, 2015
The past few years have seen the emergence of body-worn cameras in everyday policing across the United States. Many of the country’s major police departments have begun piloting or have already implemented body-worn cameras for their officers. Because of recent events in Ferguson, Mo.; New York City; Baltimore; and elsewhere in the past year, the discussion around body-worn cameras has only increased. Every other day, it seems, another city or county announces plans to begin piloting body-worn cameras.
However, the public discussion generally has not included the nation’s largest law enforcement agency: Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
With more than 60,000 employees, including 46,000 gun-carrying customs officers and Border Patrol agents, CBP is one of the largest law enforcement agencies in the world and the largest in the United States.
Since 2010, at least 35 people have been killed by CBP agents in use of force incidents. Between 2005 and 2012 2,170 incidents of CBP misconduct were reported, and 144 current or former CBP employees were arrested or indicted for corruption-related activities. According to a 2014 American Immigration Council report, in more than 800 complaints against the Border Patrol between January 2009 and January 2012, 97 percent resulted in no action being taken against the officer involved. These incidents have resulted in the perception that CBP is an out–of-control agency that is unaccountable to the public.
While it is unclear, based on existing studies, whether officers or citizens act differently when body-worn cameras are deployed, initial evidence strongly implies that body-worn cameras do lead to fewer complaints against officers and fewer assaults against them, creating a win-win for the public and law enforcement. Studies also have shown that body-worn cameras have other significant benefits for law enforcement agencies. Their use has been shown to lead to quicker resolution of cases, which has increased transparency and can work to exonerate officers quickly in many cases. Footage from body-worn cameras has also provided state and local law enforcement departments with real scenarios that officers and agents face in the field, which helps teach best practices and address problem areas.
Yet, in his budget for fiscal 2016, the president omitted CBP when he announced a new initiative that would provide $263 million for body cameras and training for local law enforcement agencies across the country. During his presidency, and especially more recently, the president has called the tension between law enforcement and their communities a national problem. Customs and Border Protection should not be excluded from this assessment.
Despite the lack of attention from the media and the White House, in late 2014 and early this year CBP began testing whether the agency should implement body-worn cameras. However, Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske called the implementation of body-worn cameras “complicated” and “expensive,” and CBP has neither moved forward with an actual pilot nor requested funding from Congress.