Border Patrol agents along the Mexico/US border have gone to unexpected lengths to justify shooting at cars. The independent review written by law enforcement experts also says that agents have fired their weapons in frustration at individuals throwing rocks from the Mexican side of the border. The independent board reviewed 67 cases that resulted in 19 deaths.
Citing the Border Patrol for a “lack of diligence” in investigating the agents who fired their weapons, the report goes on to say that there is no clarity or consistency of internal reviews in use of deadly force incidents. The report was commissioned by the US Customs and Border Protection agency and the agency has tried to keep the 21-page report from becoming public.
Even House and Senate oversight committees that requested copies last fall only received a summary. As the report leaves out the most controversial findings, the committees have renewed their requests for full disclosure.
The report made two major recommendations. Border Agents should be barred from shooting at occupied vehicles unless the driver and/or passengers are actively trying to kill the agent. The second recommendation suggested that Border Agent should be barred from firing their weapon at individuals who throw objects that won’t likely cause serious physical injury.
The new secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, is reviewing the report and its recommendations. The Border Patrol argues that a ban on shooting rock throwers would cause a more dangerous environment to develop. Agents, who operate in rural and desolate areas don’t have the ability to find concealment that agents operating in more urban areas have. A spokesman said that if drug smugglers knew that border patrol agents were not allowed to fire at their vehicles, more drug traffickers would attempt to run over the officers.
Mexican authorities have been complaining for years to Washington that US border agents who kill Mexican nationals are seldom disciplined. They also maintain that the investigation records are kept from the public for years furthering slowing changes in policy. Critics of the report warn that more deaths and abuse is likely without stricter controls to limit the use of deadly force.
The review, which examined case files on 67 shooting incidents between January 2010 and October 2012, was completed by the Police Executive Research Forum. PERF is a nonprofit policy organization located in Washington DC. The group works with law enforcement agencies in helping them identify, and improve, trouble spots within their organization.
The authors of the study show that evidence in the case files points to agents standing in the road to shoot at drivers trying to avoid arrest and posed no lethal threat to the officer. In many of the cases, the driver was attempting to flee from the agents and, in some cases, passengers were hit by agents’ gunfire.
The report says that a half-ounce bullet probably won’t stop a two ton vehicle, but if the driver is hit by the bullet, the vehicle will probably become an unguided threat. Bystanders, including other agents, could be hurt or killed by a runaway car. “Obviously, shooting at a moving vehicle can pose a greater risk,” says the report’s authors.
The report recommends that the Border Patrol adopt police procedures used in many US jurisdictions which bars law enforcement from firing at a moving vehicle. Border Patrol officers defended the existing policies say that agents need broad flexibility to protect themselves.
By Jerry Nelson