The system for disciplining corrupt Border Patrol agents is so “broken” that it has become a “national security threat,” according to an independent task force commissioned by the federal government to investigate the agency’s approach to criminal misconduct in its ranks.
In a 49-page report delivered to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson Tuesday, the task force, which included former U.S. Rep. Ron Barber (D-Arizona), describes how drug cartels and other nefarious individuals recruit corrupt law enforcement personnel to facilitate drug smuggling, human trafficking, and other criminal activity.
“Such corrupt officials can assist the cartels by providing intelligence and facilitating the movement of large amounts of contraband across our borders and into our country,” the report states.
It takes U.S. Customs and Border Protection so long — an average of a year and a half — to investigate allegations of misconduct by Border Patrol agents that, the task force concludes, its oversight is no longer an “effective deterrent.”
Confirming something critics have long claimed, the task force also reports that U.S. Customs and Border Protection is not sufficiently monitoring use of force.
Currently, Border Patrol agents are supposed to be flagged if they use force more than three times in six months and are allowed to keep their jobs while under investigation.
Border Patrol has notoriously poor data collection, however.
During fiscal year 2012-2013, for example, the government only reported three instances when people were stopped and searched without probable cause. A recent American Civil Liberties Union analysis of 6,000 pages of government records discovered more than 80 incidents during that same time period — in the Tucson and Yuma sectors alone.
Even when complaints are noted, Derek Bambauer, a law professor at the University of Arizona who co-authored the ACLU report, told New Times that few agents are reprimanded.
Nearly 200 people complained of maltreatment and corruption during fiscal year 2012-2013, the ACLU reports. But, that year, only one officer was reprimanded. The victim in that case reportedly was a government employee and the son of a Border Patrol agent.
In the new report, the task force urges the government to empower the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to immediately fire or suspend without pay agents who have committed “egregious, serious, and flagrant misconduct.”
It also suggests tracking the movement of Border Patrol trucks, boats, and planes by satellite, and more closely monitoring agents’ behavior at traffic checkpoints.
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.