Border agents don’t understand use-of-force, report says

WASHINGTON — Some U.S. Border Patrol agents don’t understand the agency’s rules regarding use of force and receive insufficient training, a report released Tuesday by a government watchdog office concludes.

After a series of fatal confrontations with agents on the Southwestern border, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General reviewed more than 1,187 allegations of excessive use of force in the five years ending Sept. 30, 2012.

According to the report, an audit of Border Patrol training showed that “many agents and officers do not understand use of force and the extent to which they may or may not use force.”

The report, titled “U.S. Customs and Border Protection Use of Force Training and Actions to Address Use of Force Incidents,” also says training was too short and trainers were not giving sufficient tests on use of “less-lethal” force.

In response, James Tomsheck, the head of Customs and Border Protection Office of Internal Affairs, wrote that only one of 32 internal field training reviews showed that agents were unfamiliar with agency policies regarding use of force. He said the agency now tracks all use-of-force incidents and is improving training for agents and officers.

Border Patrol agents and customs officers have killed at least 19 people since 2010. In some cases, people who were shot had thrown rocks. Guidelines allow agents to fire weapons at people throwing rocks, if they pose a deadly threat to the agents.

Several cases have drawn special scrutiny. In one 2010 case, a man suffered a fatal heart attack in San Diego after an agent had used on Taser on him. In September 2012 a man was shot on the banks of the Rio Grande in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. Mexican authorities said the man was picnicking with his family.

“If any metropolitan police department was involved in 19 fatal shootings in the span of two years, we would be appalled and would expect that they would look at best practices for other agencies to reduce use-of-force incidents, like body-worn cameras for officers,” Vicki B. Gaubeca, director of the ACLU of New Mexico’s Regional Center for Border Rights, said in response to the report. “There is little indication in this report that (the Border Patrol) are.”

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