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Border Patrol Union Scorns Award for Agents Who Follow Policy to Avoid Deadly Force

Border Patrol agent reads the Miranda rights to a Mexican national arrested for transporting drugs
Border Patrol agent reads the Miranda rights to a Mexican national arrested for transporting drugs
Chris Rickerd,
Senior Policy Counsel,
ACLU National Political Advocacy Department
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June 13, 2016

Over the past decade, Customs and Border Protection has had an acute excessive use of force problem, without any accountability to date. Last month, however, the agency did something worthy of praise. It announced a new award designed to recognize CBP personnel, including Border Patrol agents, who deescalate an encounter that might otherwise have led to deadly force: the “Use of Deadly Force Encounter Averted Award.”

In response, the National Border Patrol Council, a union representing some 17,000 Border Patrol agents and support personnel, immediately criticized the award. Union leaders argued it reflects a “type of thinking [that] will get Border Patrol agents killed. If that happens we will hold the creators of this award accountable. This is despicable.”

You read that right, but what’s not “despicable” to the union is any one of the more than 50 deaths caused by CBP since 2010 — not, for example, a Border Patrol agent shooting an unarmed Mexican teenager in the back 10 times across the border fence. The Border Patrol union leadership objects instead to commending agents who demonstrate, under the award’s terms:

“clear situational awareness and courage while disarming a suspect using contact controls [‘physical measures taken when verbal commands and officer presence are not effective’] and verbal commands before the situation escalated to the use of deadly force. The act must demonstrate courage in the face of an armed suspect and result in no injury in accordance with [CBP]’s use of force policy.”

The ACLU welcomes policy disagreement and rational discussion that advances understanding of how to protect civil and human rights in hazardous situations. NBPC’s position here shows, by contrast, bad and blinkered faith. Awards for agents who demonstrate skill in executing the policy they’re trained on to avoid unnecessary deadly force are exactly the type of change needed to reform Border Patrol’s track record of excessive force. Agents who preserve life and limb using techniques lauded by top law-enforcement leaders and police think tanks deserve to be lauded.

NBPC potshots like, “This is typical pandering by [CBP] executives to organizations like the ACLU and illegal alien advocates,” aren’t worth engaging, although many of those killed and battered by agents are, in fact, U.S. citizens and lawful residents. What revolts us — and demeans agents who do their job with integrity and professionalism — is the union leadership’s callous disregard for human life.

Two months ago, the NBPC made another misleading announcement in connection with endorsing primary candidate Donald Trump. We’ve written elsewhere about how the “Border Patrol Union’s Trump Endorsement Is Filled With Lies and Misinformation.” The New York Times denounced the union’s announcement as based on “thinking that dehumanizes migrants, that tolerates reckless violence by border agents [and] reveals an attitude that condones abuse and cruelty toward those in custody and justifies the profiling and harassment of drivers on the highway.”

The NBPC leadership’s rationale for its Trump endorsement was opposed even internally. In El Paso, local union leadership only narrowly agreed, 14 to 13, after many agents dissented. NBPC leadership’s extremism is what truly harms CBP personnel’s safety because it perpetuates CBP’s poisoned well of trust in border communities. Agents of good faith must reject their union leaders’ mendacious, damaging stances and affirm that every courageous agent who earns a “Use of Deadly Force Encounter Averted Award” exemplifies the Border Patrol’s best values.

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