Border Patrol will Stop Shooting at Rock Throwers and Moving Vehicles
After numerous complaints from advocates and critical stories in the media, the U.S. Border Patrol has decided to alter its policy that authorized the use of deadly force against rock throwers and people fleeing in automobiles.
Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher announced that agents would no longer be allowed to shoot at people throwing rocks at them, or fire at vehicles trying to escape. The directive also ordered agents to not step in front of moving vehicles, which had been used in the past as justification for opening fire.
Agents are to seek cover in the event of a rock-throwing encounter, but can use deadly force if the objects pose an imminent danger of death or serious injury.
The new rules follow widespread complaints from immigrant advocates that the Border Patrol had become trigger-happy and was unnecessarily using its weapons.
At least 19 people have been killed by agents since 2010.
Pressure began to mount after media reports revealed the agency had disregarded the recommendations of law enforcement experts to alter its approach to handling rock throwers and moving vehicles. Those recommendations from the Police Executive Research Forum were included in a report commissioned by the Border Patrol.
Johnson, who took office in December, was criticized by some—including a Border Patrol agents’ union—for his stand.
“We will oppose any restriction on the ability of agents to use force,” the union’s vice-president, Shawn P. Moran, told The Los Angeles Times. He added that the new policy “seems to be a response to political pressure from special interests.”
Fisher told reporters that pellet guns, pepper spray, Tasers, and road spike strips would be provided to Border Patrol agents to use as alternatives to lethal weapons.
Some immigration reform advocates say the new policy doesn’t go far enough.
More transparency is in order, said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-California), who serves on the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security. “When there are incidents in terms of injury or even death, there needs to be transparent investigations and there needs to be a public resolution of what they found,” she told the Times.
The American Civil Liberties Union has proposed that small cameras be worn by agents and installed in their cars so incidents will be recorded.
The Border Action Network would like to see more accountability. U.S. Customs and Border Protection “must hold their officers accountable for what has become a clear pattern and practice of abuse of force,” the group’s Juanita Molina told the Times.
Fisher has continued to defend his agents, telling those attending the Border Security Expo in Phoenix this week that it was wrong of critics to claim his employees “indiscriminately” opened fire on immigrants.
“If you are like me, there’s nothing more terrifying than fighting for your life when you're alone with no communication, and the thought for a split second that you may never get home at the end of that shift to see your wife and son again,” Fisher said. “The only thing that is equal to the ripple of fear is thinking of having to use deadly force against another human being.”
-Noel Brinkerhoff, Danny Biederman
To Learn More:
Border Patrol Restricts Agents' Use of Force (by Brian Bennett, Los Angeles Times)
Border Patrol Chief Says Agents Unfairly Criticized (by Astrid Galvan, Associated Press)
Border Patrol Used Dubious Tactics to Create Pretext to Justify Shootings; CBP Tried to Bury Scathing Report (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
Homeland Security Dept. Censors Internal Report on Border Patrol Shootings (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
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