News & Politics

We're Spending Billions to Support the Most Corrupt, Abusive Arm of Law Enforcement

Almost 1,200 allegations of excessive use of force were launched against the Border Patrol in just five years.

In March 2014, three women from Honduras—a mother, her 14-year-old daughter and another teenage girl—crossed the Rio Grande near Abram, Texas. According to Garrett Graff's article in Politico Magazine, they surrendered to U.S. Custom and Border Protection agent Esteban Manzanares of the Border Patrol. Instead of taking them to the holding area in McAllen, Texas, Manzanares put them in the back of his patrol vehicle and drove around for a couple of hours.

Then he stopped his truck in a wooded area. He raped both the mother and the daughter. He slit the mother’s wrists and tried to break the daughter’s neck, leaving them for dead in the brush.

He drove off with the third woman bound in his green-and-white heavy-duty Border Patrol truck with a red-and-blue light bar on top, a Department of Homeland Security logo on the door and a U.S. flag on the hood. Somewhere out in the borderlands, the agent left his third prisoner hidden, bound with duct tape.

At the end of his shift, he went back for the girl, took her to his apartment where he raped her. Meanwhile, one of his earlier victims, still alive, had stumbled across the field of a surveillance camera and Border Patrol agents were sent to pick her up. Questioning the two victims led the agents to suspect that a CBP officer was involved and they called the local FBI office. Finding duct tape and blood in Esteban Manzanares' service vehicle, the FBI agents headed to his apartment. There, Manzanares shot himself after the FBI knocked on his door and identified themselves as federal officers. The girl was found in his apartment, alive, naked and bound to a chair.

Border Patrol Agents conduct an operations check on a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle on the South Texas border.
Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle. To protect against a secret flood of IEDs on the border?
 
After an internal bureaucratic struggle that forced him to turn to the secretary of the DHS, the new U.S. Customs and Border Protection director, Gil Kerlikowske, issued a statement that said, in part:
"I want you to know that I consider these actions, if true, to be reprehensible and I know they are not representative of the agents of the U.S. Border Patrol. ... I am deeply sorry that this incident occurred and am committed to doing everything in my power to prevent incidents like this from occurring again."
There are two things of note about this story. One is that Esteban Manzanares was already under suspicion for allowing two border violators to go free, but the backlog of misconduct allegations at the inspector general's office was so great he was allowed to remain on duty until an investigation could be done.

And two, the agency was so deeply troubled that the new commissioner had to fight his own officials within the CBP in order to issue his statement. They preferred to follow the long-standing tradition of publicly ignoring any accusation of corruption, misconduct, and/or excessive use of force.

Within the first 10 years after 9/11, we spent over $100 billion on CBP. In the five years since then, we have spent an additional $59.7 billion.

At the beginning of Bill Clinton's presidency, there were 4,000 Border Patrol agents. That figure more than doubled to 9,200 by 9/11. Now part of CBP, the Border Patrol employs 20,824. That is an incredible growth resulting from our fear of our neighbors after the 9/11 attacks.

As a former police chief in Buffalo and Seattle, Kerlikowske was familiar with the problems inherent in increasing a force's size that rapidly:

“Law enforcement always regrets hiring quickly,” he says, sitting at the conference table in the spacious wood-paneled commissioner’s suite. The horror stories are legendary in police circles: the infamous Miami police hiring surge in 1980; the notorious Washington Metropolitan Police class of 1989, when Mayor Marion Barry, under pressure from Congress, tried to increase the police force by nearly half in a single year. Both agencies faced widespread corruption problems in the years after.
It really isn't possible to properly screen and adequately train a force that large, that fast. As a result, misconduct and corruption flourish. As does inappropriate use of force.

logo of the Department of Homeland Security
 
In 2013, Congress asked the Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the DHS to investigate the use of force within the CBP. What they found was that within the case management system of the DHS, there was no designation for primary use-of-force allegations. This lack of clear record keeping left the OIG unable to determine the total number of allegations and investigations involving CBP employees. They were able to look at files that might possibly include excessive force and abuse allegations.
Of the more than 21,000 records that we received, we reviewed the allegation summary field for the 2,093 records from JICMS data—excessive force and abuse allegations and intentional discharge of weapon. This included 1,896 records from FYs 2007 through 2012 in the excessive force and abuse data. We identified 1,187 of these records as possible allegations related to excessive force. The allegations also included physical abuse (punching, kicking, and pushing) during apprehension, and use of an electronic control device, baton, or pepper spray.
Almost 1,200 allegations of excessive use of force in just five years. Those were only the allegations that were made. It is likely that there were multiples of that figure in actual excessive force actions that were never reported by the very vulnerable community that the Border Patrol encounters.

In February 2013, Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) issued a report to the CBP of its analysis of the agency's policies and cases of use of force. After keeping the report secret for over a year, it was finally released in May 2014, after the ACLU had filed a lawsuit over the CBP's refusal to comply with a FOIA request. The report was scathing:

Two policy and practice areas especially need significant change. First, officers/agents should be prohibited from shooting at vehicles unless vehicle occupants are attempting to use deadly force--other than the vehicle--against the agent. Training and tactics should focus on avoiding positions that put agents in the path of a vehicle and getting out of the way of moving vehicles.

Second, officers/agents should be prohibited from using deadly force against subjects throwing objects not capable of causing serious physical injury or death to them. Officers/agents should be trained to specific situations and scenarios that involve subjects throwing such objects. The training should emphasize pre-deployment strategies, the use of cover and concealment, maintaining safe distances, equipping vehicles and boats with protective cages and/or screening, de-escalation strategies, and where reasonable the use of less-lethal devices.

Yes, you read that right. PERF recommended that agents get out of the way of moving vehicles, and that they stop killing rock throwers.

A kid throwing a rock from a public park in Mexico at a BP boat on the Rio Grande caused the agents in the boat to open fire on the crowd of Mexicans, killing one. In the video, it is kind of hard to see anyone throwing rocks, but even if rocks were thrown, why would the Border Patrol agents feel that rocks thrown from that distance could possibly harm them, much less put them in fear for their lives?

The Los Angeles Times reported last month that despite the accusations that Border Patrol agents shot and killed two dozen people over the last five years, no one has been disciplined for any excessive use of force.
Administration officials insist they are moving as quickly as possible in a thicket of federal bureaucracy, union rules and an internal culture that closes ranks around its paramilitary force.
Efforts are being made to incorporate some of the suggestions made by PERF, including an internal affairs unit with the ability to investigate accusations of abuse. PERF found a "lack of diligence" on the part of the CBP in investigating allegations against agents.
Shawn Moran, vice president of the union that represents most Border Patrol agents, decried the new rules and stepped-up investigations as unnecessary and ineffective.

"I don't think [the changes] will have a huge effect," Moran said in a phone interview from San Diego. Current investigations into use of force, he added, "are very thorough."

The difference between a law enforcement agency and a bunch of guys with guns, is respect for the law, training, and accountability. The uncontrolled and unpunished behavior of some of the members of the Border Patrol has darkened the reputation of the entire force. And the union, of which Shawn Moran is the vice president, doesn't seem to get that.

 

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