LAWG Response to CBP Continued Stalling on Body-Worn Camera Implementation

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LAWG expresses disappointment in response to the announcement by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske today that CBP will delay its body-worn camera implementation and continue exploring and testing the integration of new technologies into various points of their operations.

As far back as July 2014, CBP had established a working group comprised of representatives from CBP offices and various offices within the Department of Homeland Security to evaluate the feasibility of incorporating body-worn camera technology into CBP law enforcement operations. After testing various cameras and technologies for twelve months, this working group released its report today asserting the need to perform evaluations of new technologies and explore their feasibility for CBP work environments as well as produce a document outlining a timeline and next steps.

“Implementing body-worn cameras is an urgent need for CBP, the nation’s largest law enforcement agency, which is facing numerous open cases of serious abuse against individuals by its agents that showcase a lack of overall accountability and oversight. CBP has repeatedly assured us that it wants to increase transparency agency-wide. Exploring the feasibility for the use of such technology was an important first step, but without a clear timeline and next steps, today’s announcement only reflects the agency’s continued lack of will to move forward on these issues,” says Daniella Burgi-Palomino, LAWG’s Senior Associate for Mexico, Migrant Rights and Border Issues.

From 2005-2014, CBP agents and officers have killed at least 40 people with no agents being disciplined in those cases. Over 2,000 incidents of misconduct were reported from fiscal years 2005-2012 and 144 current or former CBP employees were arrested or indicted for corruption-related activities. These unlawful actions have affected individuals and families like those of Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, who wasbeaten, electrocuted and killed by Border Patrol agents in 2010, or 25-year-old Alex Martin who was burned to death in 2012 after a border agent smashed his car and fired a Taser inside, igniting an explosion. In Anastasio’s case, the Department of Justice issued an announcement last Friday stating that there was insufficient evidence to press charges against the agent. No action has been taken on Martin’s case. In both cases and in so many others, body-worn cameras could have helped provide crucial evidence of abuse by agents.

Moreover, the use of body worn cameras was a central focus of the President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, a group established to strengthen trust and collaboration between law enforcement and communities. As the nation’s largest law enforcement agency with a series of ongoing abuses and use of force incidents, LAWG calls for CBP to urgently address the need for body-worn cameras and communicate clear next steps on a timeline and on the implementation of such accountability mechanisms across its field operations. Until it does so, CBP officers’ actions will remain in impunity and the agency will continue to fail to improve its transparency and accountability.