First step in tracking excessive force at Customs & Border Patrol? Need the right data to count

By SB Anderson

The Department of Homeland Security Inspector General has concluded its examination of use of excessive force within the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and its first recommendation: Customs and Border Patrol needs to start specifically tracking the number of excessive force allegations and cases because the inspector general’s staff wasn’t able to count them accurately with the data currently being kept.

“Allegations of employee misconduct that are entered into Department of Homeland Security (DHS) case management systems are assigned one of several case allegation types; however, there is no primary use of force designation. As a result, we were unable to identify the total number of excessive force allegations and investigations involving CBP employees,” the just-released report said.

The inspector general began investigating incidents of excessive force in 2012 after media reports about an undocumented immigrant dying in 2010 while in Customs and Border Patrol custody in Southern California. Congressional calls for an investigation followed the stories.

Some 21,000 records of possible excessive force incidents were turned over to investigators, who narrowed their review down to just over 2,000 records that seemed most likely to indicate excessive force from 2007 to 2012. It found 1,323 that might include excessive force or use of force. (See below)

Inspector General use of force investigation

The agency’s own tracking of use of force reports, which began in 2010 to “gain insight into use of force trends, training, and equipment needs,” but is not used “for discipline purposes,” showed 1,188 use of force incidents in 2011 and 935 in 2012 — mostly with border patrol and most involving “less than lethal devices.”

The inspector general investigation concluded that Customs and Border Patrol did an acceptable job of use-of-force training even as the size of its workforce expanded significantly during the years studied.

Results of an internal review of use of force that the agency began after the media reports was included in the inspector general’s report, but was largely redacted.

The three recommendations made in the report:

  • CBP should work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to implement a method to identify excessive force allegations in its case management system.
  • Develop processes to incorporate information regarding assaults on agents that do not result in the use of force into its analysis of use of force incidents.
  • Evaluate and act upon field audit results.

The inspector general’s office said it would also “modify its case management system to identify in greater detail incidents involving excessive use of force allegations.”