By Alicia Caldwell
WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency is asking the private sector for suggestions on camera systems that could be worn by border agents or mounted to patrol cars.
The proposal to have agents wear cameras came amid concerns that border agents have been too quick to use force, including shooting people along the U.S.-Mexico border.
But Border Patrol data released Thursday shows that uses of physical force by Border Patrol agents and border inspectors have been declining in the past 17 months.
Between October 2014 and September 2015, CBP reported 768 uses of force, a drop of about 26 percent from the 1,037 incidents the previous year and down about 37 percent from the 1,215 incidents in 2013.
Since October, Border Patrol agents have used their guns four times and other force 249 times.
The new statistics do not include details about the incidents or whether they were ruled justified under the agency's policies.
The requests for information about camera systems were published on a government business website Thursday. It marks a minor step forward in a continuing review by the agency to decide if Border Patrol agents and Customs officers should wear body cameras.
Late last year, the agency announced it was holding off on deploying cameras to agents and officers, saying the idea needed more study despite a yearlong review. President Barack Obama's 2017 budget proposal included a request for $5 million to help the agency move forward on cameras testing.
"CBP is committed to this effort and expanded transparency through a number of efforts, including an increased camera infrastructure," Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske said Thursday.
The agency tested body cameras last year in simulated environments such as the Border Patrol training academy in Artesia, New Mexico, and later expanded trials to 90 agents and officers who volunteered across the country to use them on their jobs.
Agency staff said in an August report that cameras could be a deterrent to frivolous complaints against agents, make use of force less likely, and provide evidence for criminal prosecutions. But the review also found that the cameras tested were unsuited for the rugged, remote areas where most Border Patrol agents work.
Kerlikowske has previously attributed the decline in use of force incidents to revamped rules on when and how border agents can use force.