Customs and Border Protection said Wednesday that it has begun outfitting thousands of officers with body cameras to monitor their actions in the field even as the Biden administration struggles to handle the massive number of migrants crossing the border.
“Our agents and officers serve the public and protect our borders every day with great skill and professionalism,” said acting CBP Commissioner Troy Miller in a statement.
He said the technology would provide “greater transparency” into “interactions between CBP officers and agents and the public.”
According to the CBP, the cameras will do double duty — document criminal activity by migrants and keep an eye on agents in the field.
“The implementation of body-worn cameras will further strengthen CBP’s ability to document and review enforcement encounters and use of force incidents, and to investigate allegations of misconduct on the part of our personnel,” the agency said in a statement.
CBP said it signed a $13 million contract with Axon Enterprises in September 2020 to outfit about 3,800 agents with the cameras and provide cloud data storage.
The agency expects to have about 6,000 in use by the end of the year.
Attempts to contact the CBP to get a breakdown of the costs per camera were unsuccessful.
Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) called on the White House to concentrate on the border crisis.
“The Biden administration has been focused on everything but securing the border, which is why the border crisis continues. It’s long past time for the Administration to admit its mistakes on immigration policy and take this crisis seriously,” he said in a statement to The Post.
Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, the union that represents a majority of Border Patrol officers, said his members support cameras because they would be an effective tool in prosecuting criminals and useful in training.
“Body-worn cameras can be tools that can help law enforcement prosecute criminals. Body-worn cameras can be tools to help ensure that law enforcement officers are acting within their scope,” Judd said.
But he said the officers need to have access to the recordings.
“Not just through use of force situations but any mundane situation, so that they can go back through and see what they might have done wrong or what they could have done better to be more effective as a law enforcement officer,” he told CBS.
“If it’s strictly to appease the anti-police movement, and it’s strictly for the ‘gotcha moments,’ then we’re going to obviously be opposed,” Judd said.
The cameras are part of the federal agency’s new Incident-Driven Video Recording Systems program that records and stores audio and video data.
About the size of a deck of cards, the cameras will be worn on the front of an agent’s uniform and will run continuously in the background.
Once activated by the agent, it will start to record footage beginning two minutes before activation, the CBP said.
“This is a significant step forward and will build upon CBP’s current utilization of other technology to investigate incidents and allegations of misconduct,” the CBP said in a statement.
The announcement on the use of the cameras comes as the Associated Press reported that more than 19,000 unaccompanied children were stopped by US authorities in July, beating the previous high of 18,877 in March.
In June, 15,253 children were encountered.
The number of families picked up in July is expected to hit 80,000 — just short of the record high of 88,857 set in May 2019, according to preliminary numbers.
Immigrant advocacy groups and the American Civil Liberties Union have urged the agency to begin using the cameras to keep an eye on agents in the field.
The ACLU in Texas sued the CBP in May 2020 over the shooting death of a 20-year-old Guatemalan woman by a Border Patrol agent in May 2018.
The lawsuit claims the woman was traveling alone near Rio Bravo, Texas, when she was shot by the agent — even though she was unarmed.
According to data compiled by the CBP, there have been 343 use-of-force complaints involving on-duty agents as of June in the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30.
Of those, 195 pertained to physical assaults, 65 accounted for rocks or other projectiles, 35 involved a vehicle or vessel, four involved a knife and another four involved a firearm.
Sixty-three incidents were classified as “other.”
There have been 462 assaults against agents in the same time period.
The announcement said the cameras would first be rolled out in the San Diego, Yuma, Tucson, El Paso, Big Bend, Del Rio, Rio Grande Valley sectors on the southern border before distributing them more widely.
CBP said Congress approved the IDVRS program in 2017, and the agency conducted a six-month evaluation of the technology from May to November 2018.