US Customs and Border Protection Rejects Body Cameras
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the nation’s biggest law enforcement agency and a fixture at international airports, has rejected officer and agent body cameras — but this may change, the Associated Press reported.
The decision was made after a yearlong internal review, and the findings of this review were discussed with the AP by two anonymous sources, who said the agency “found operating cameras may distract agents while they're performing their jobs, may hurt employee morale, and may be unsuited to the hot, dusty conditions in which Border Patrol agents often work.”
These findings are currently in draft form and subject to approval by Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske, who announced plans to test such cameras at the agency, which employs roughly 60,000 people, the AP noted.
The agency wouldn’t completely rule out body cameras, but there are questions about effectiveness, and more analysis is needed, the agency said, per the AP.
The AP called Kerlikowske “noncommittal” in regards to whether body cameras should be issued to the 21,000 Border Patrol agents, who watch the Mexico and Canada borders, and the roughly 24,000 Customs and Border Protection officers stationed at official ports of entry.
"Putting these in place, as you know, is not only complicated, it's also expensive," the former Seattle police chief said last year, according to the AP. "We want to make sure we do this right."
Police conduct has been a hot-button issue as of late, leading to widespread interest and implementation of police officer body cameras across the country.
President Barack Obama, the AP said, supports their use, pledging millions of dollars to local departments in the effort to get body cameras on personnel.
Some other complications have been revealed in CBP’s exploration of body cameras.
The AP said widespread circulation of the cameras “hinged on union approval, which was always a question mark.”
The National Border Patrol Council, representatives of Border Patrol agents, said it was concerned that supervisors might use the footage to “retaliate against agents they wanted to discipline or force from their jobs,” according to the AP.
"Under the right conditions and with the right policies, (body cameras) can be a valuable tool, but obviously CBP has been unable or unwilling to meet that criteria," Shawn Moran, a spokesman for the agents' union, said Friday, per the AP.
The draft report cites a host of other concerns in this multi-million dollar endeavor, the AP said, including acquiring equipment, agent training and responses to public records requests.
Agent and officer morale is was also presented as an issue, “because employees could interpret the cameras as a show of distrust,” the report said, according to the AP.
Also, the report stated cameras “could undermine intelligence gathering if people interviewed by agents know they are being recorded. Footage may also not accurately reflect the sense of threat an agent feels,” the AP said.
Christian Ramirez, director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition, a group that has criticized CBP over its use of force, said to the AP that the findings were "extremely disappointing."
"You can't hide that CBP is a broken agency that needs to immediately implement 21st century accountability standards and one of those tools is body-worn cameras," he said.
The authors of the findings did acknowledge body cameras “can reduce the likelihood of agents using force and discourage frivolous complaints against them. Footage also could be used as evidence in criminal prosecutions,” the AP said, but the authors recommended only “limited use.”
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