Changing to stay the same

The new guidelines for the use of deadly force by Border Patrol agents are a positive step toward transparency. However, there is still a long way to go for this agency to be clearly accountable for its actions to the public, as appropriate for a regular police force.

Initially, Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher rejected recommendations made in a report that was censored in part and of which months later, another portion was leaked to the media. The report criticized the use of deadly force when rocks are thrown at agents and when agents shoot at moving vehicles.

Apparently, the arrival of the new secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, made Fisher change his mind. The result were the new rules, which were recently released.

These rules basically recommend that agents take into account “the totality of the circumstances” when considering if they are in danger and whether to shoot to death. The agents’ union backed the guidelines because they are “a reminder to agents to seek alternatives” and are not “an outright restriction on agents’ use of deadly force.”

We believe that the new rules respond to the general outrage about abuse of power on the part of agents, without making big changes. It is more a public relations move than the transformation of the Border Patrol’s fast-trigger culture.

A major change in transparency would have been, for example, releasing the entire report by the Police Executive Research Forum. Much-needed reforms could be based on the analysis of this respected police source.

It is also necessary to know how agent-involved shootings are being investigated, the results of these investigations and the names of the agents. Taxpayers have the right to know this. The work of Border Patrol agents is tough, but they must be held accountable for their actions like any law enforcement officer.

The new guidelines are not much help in preventing abuse. They also do not provide the transparency needed to stop agents from shooting and killing minors on the other side of the border or irresponsibly shooting at vehicles.