SBCC Responds to Announcement and Calls for Implementation Timeline and Budget
Southern Border/Washington DC: After years of being in the national and international spotlight for abuse and impunity, today's announcement by Commissioner Kerlikowske of more study and delays is unacceptable. Instead of setting goal posts and timelines for implementation, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is choosing to expand its review and consider upgrading cameras where they already exist.
The lack of a clear commitment to implement cameras runs counter to best policing practices and a national trend to deploy cameras with appropriate privacy policies to address abuse and impunity. The announcement today falls far short of addressing this crisis and it fails to address the concerns of border families, Members of Congress, and law enforcement experts.
At a time when policing practices are under scrutiny around the country, CBP is stalling in taking meaningful steps forward with reforms that have been clearly defined as necessary for professional policing in the 21st century.
Southern border groups urge the White House to allocate resources in the President's budget to immediately direct Customs and Border Protection to deploy body-worn cameras agency wide, particularly in communities where Border Patrol routinely comes into contact with residents.
In response to the announcement, representatives of the Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC), along with leading voices from across the nation on police accountability, released the following statements:
Christian Ramirez, Director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition and Human Rights Director at Alliance San Diego:
CBP has failed to lay out a real path forward to equip all border and customs agents and officers with body-worn cameras. The unwillingness to implement the most basic standards of professionalism, transparency and integrity is, at best, irresponsible. CBP is an agency that is broken and operates on the fringes of the policing world, leaving a trail of untold human rights abuses in the borderlands. The time has come for the Obama Administration to take immediate steps to rein in an out-of-control agency by committing to allocate resources to deploy body-worn cameras agency wide.
Vicki Gaubeca, Director of the ACLU of New Mexico Regional Center for Border Rights and Co-chair of the Southern Border Communities Coalition:
Our nation's largest police force, CBP, is in a deep crisis with an urgent need for systemic cultural changes. Every day CBP fails to move forward accountability reforms, they enable Border Patrol agents to abuse their power, profile residents, and kill unarmed civilians in incidents that to date have been shrouded in secrecy and offend American values of equality and justice. Where there is a will there is a way, but it's not evident that CBP has the will. Without stronger leadership, Commissioner Kerlikowske's tenure will end as it began with abuses being hidden from public view and met with impunity.
Juanita Molina, Director of the Border Action Network, Arizona:
We need to see leadership at CBP that is willing to rise to the task and implement meaningful accountability mechanisms, such as body-worn cameras, without delay. Without a clear vision for implementation of body-worn cameras, the Commissioner is charting a course for a destination unknown that fails to inspire confidence in the community.
Astrid Dominguez, ACLU of Texas:
This failure to immediately commit to meaningful reforms continues to leave millions of border residents vulnerable to dangerous and deadly encounters with agents who have a green light to commit abuses and no leadership to hold them responsible. Given the undeniable crisis inside CBP, that White House must act now and rein in a broken and out-of-control federal law-enforcement agency. Deploying body-worn cameras with a robust policy that guarantees transparency, oversight, accountability and protects privacy rights is a fundamental first step in order to guarantee the safety of border communities.
Wade Henderson, President and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights:
We would hope that the largest police force in the nation would embrace the transparency that body-worn cameras, governed by the policies recommended in the civil rights principles released in May, would provide. Border communities have been clamoring for greater transparency and accountability from CBP, but it's clear that the agency isn't yet willing to meet its obligation as a steward of the public trust.
Pedro Rios, Director, American Friends Service Committee's US-Mexico Border Program and Chairperson of the San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium:
It is unconscionable that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has chosen to delay a real and tangible way of protecting civil rights and those with whom they are in contact by not fully adopting body-worn cameras. With tens of thousands of agents in the field, CBP is not living up to the most basic of expectations of accountability that all police forces should abide by and cannot be trusted without foreseeable oversight mechanisms such as body-worn cameras. The consequences will continue to be tragic and the cost in the suffering of families and communities will be immeasurable.
Myra Llerenas, Southern NM Field Coordinator, Equality New Mexico:
Customs and Border Protection should be leading by example, instead it is failing before our eyes. Like the local police departments throughout the border region that have adopted body-worn cameras in the same environment that CBP operates, the agency should find ways to address the obstacles they identify and not only equip the agents with body-worn cameras without delay but implement all recommendations that have been presented for reforming the agency in order to bring them up to 21st century policing standards.
Opal Tometi, Executive Director BAJI, Co-founder #BlacklivesMatter
We’re in a state sanctioned policing crisis in this country, and Customs and Border Protection is clearly an example of everything that is wrong with policing today. Equipping their agents with body-worn cameras should be the simplest step they can take to demonstrate their commitment to transparency and real justice, yet they continue to stall and look for excuses not to take swift action. Unfortunately, CBP will continue to be a threat to communities until decisive action is taken by the leadership.
Background: Since 2010, at least 40 people have been killed as a result of encounters with Customs and Border Protection agents. None of the officers involved have been held accountable in any of those incidents calling into question the use-of-force practices by the agency and their ability to maintain adequate oversight.
Independent bodies including the Police Executive Research Forum and a Homeland Security Integrity Advisory Panel have concluded that the agency must take measures to prevent the loss of life and to build the infrastructure to investigate incidents and hold agents accountable for any wrongdoing. Equipping agents with body-worn cameras has been included as part of the recommendations to uphold the nation's largest law enforcement agency to professional policing standards.
At a time of national debate regarding police accountability, CBP-the nation's largest police force- should lead by example in adopting 21st century policing best practices to establish trust, transparency and accountability to border communities. Federal lawmakers and law-enforcement leaders have joined the chorus of voices urging Customs and Border Protection to take immediate steps towards greater transparency and accountability.
The Southern Border Communities Coalition(SBCC) brings together more than 60 organizations from San Diego, California, to Brownsville, Texas, to ensure that border enforcement policies and practices are accountable and fair, respect human dignity and human rights, and prevent the loss of life in the region.