Release of PERF Report and Revised Use-of-Force Policies a Victory for Southern Border Communities

Quick and Thorough Implementation of Report Recommendations Critical to Ensuring Agency Transparency and Accountability

Washington: After months of publicly pressuring U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to release a critical review of its use-of-force cases and policies by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), border communities can now claim a significant victory in seeing the government release the PERF report. Today, the PERF analysis was brought out into the open along with the agency’s new Use of Force Policy, Guidelines and Procedures Handbook.

Earlier this week, advocates from southern border communities met with CBP Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske in San Francisco and urged him to take swift action in implementing urgently needed reforms, including increasing agency transparency by releasing the PERF report.

Download: PERF Use of Force Review and  Use of Force Policy and Guidelines and Procedures Handbook

The release of the PERF review of CBP, the nation’s largest law enforcement agency, is seen as a turning point in public efforts to create transparency and accountability in an agency known for secrecy. But the real measure of success will be how quickly and effectively the agency is able to implement appropriate changes based on the PERF report’s recommendations and updated policies.

Among some of its key findings, PERF concluded that CBP agents intentionally placed themselves in harm’s way to justify deadly force, such as standing in front of moving vehicles and rock throwers rather than moving out of the way.

Since the revelation of some of the findings in this report last November, border communities, law enforcement and faith leaders have repeatedly urged the agency to publicly release the PERF report, which was completed in February of 2013.

Since 2010, CBP agents have killed 28 people, many of them citizens and some of them minors, yet no agent has been held accountable in any of these cases.  This clear lack of accountability at the agency prompted national and international scrutiny of CBP’s use-of-force practices and policies, culminating in an audit by PERF, which was completed in February, 2013, and kept from the public until now.

“Today’s announcement marks a turning point for the strained relations between Customs and Border Protection and civil society. The Obama administration must seize this opportunity and direct the new leadership of the Department of Homeland Security and CBP to enact rapid and thorough reforms at the nation’s largest law enforcement agency. Our government can and must prevent further abuses and deaths in a region punished, for far too long, by overzealous enforcement,” said Christian Ramírez, director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition.

Member organizations for the Campaign for an Accountable, Moral and Balanced Immigration Overhaul (CAMBIO) released the following statements in response to today’s report release:

Vicki Gaubeca, director, ACLU of New Mexico Regional Center for Border Rights

“The release of these two documents hopefully heralds a new and welcomed age of transparency for the agency. It will still be important to see how these revised policies on use of force are translated into training and the agency will require monitoring to ensure that agents who violate these new policies are held accountable. Also, we hope that there will be more transparency in future use-of-force investigations and closure is still need for the family members of previous use of force incidents, such as in the cases of Sergio Adrian Hernandez Guereca, Anastacio Hernandez Rojas, and Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez.”

Andrea Guerrero, executive director, Alliance San Diego; co-chair, Southern Border Communities Coalition

“Releasing the PERF report was a necessary first step to gain confidence in the new leadership at CBP and DHS. The Obama administration has an opportunity now to move forward substantive reforms to ensure the agency is held to the highest standards of professionalism and that decades of abusive and unaccountable behavior is finally put to rest.”

Rev. Randy J. Mayer, Pastor of the Good Shepherd United Church of Christ and CO-Founder of the Green Valley/Sahuarita Samaritans

“For too long Customs and Border Patrol has acted in secrecy and impunity, tearing apart the trust and cohesiveness of our Border Communities.  We are grateful that they have finally heard the demands of the community and are giving us a first glimpse of how they actually operate and conduct business.   If they want to be a respected and valued part of our community they now need to implement the changes that the Police Executive Research Forum has recommended in their report.  Border Communities deserve and demand a more professional, transparent, and accountable Custom and Border Patrol, since it is the largest law enforcement agency that has saturated our communities with their presence over the last few years.”
James Duff Lyall, Staff Attorney (Tucson Office), ACLU of Arizona

“Long overdue, the release of this report is a positive step toward achieving the transparency that CBP has steadfastly resisted. Major reforms – including improved training and data collection and consistent complaint and investigations processes – are still needed to change the culture of impunity that has taken hold at CBP.”

Review of Released Documents

A review of the released documents reveals that most, if not all, of the PERF recommendations were included in the new Use of Force Handbook. These include new policies that direct agents to do the following:

•    Report all incidents of use of force for the agency to review.
•    Limit use of Electronic Control Weapons (Tasers) to situations in which subject is resisting in a manner that will cause injury; Do not apply more than 3 times or to sensitive areas, or in flammable situations, or to vulnerable populations (children, etc.).
•    Do not shoot at moving vehicles unless imminent threat of serious injury or death; Do not shoot at fleeing vehicles; Do not place yourself in the path of moving vehicle.
•    Do not shoot in response to projectiles unless there is danger of serious death or injury; Seek cover or remove from area of danger.

CAMBIO and its members organizations welcome the new policies. “We are pleased to see that CBP is taking the recommendations seriously,” stated Christian Ramirez. “The new policies on use of force represent an alignment with best practices in law enforcement and we will be watching closely to see that these policies are put into practice and that the agency fulfills prior commitments such as officially testing body-worn cameras to record agent interactions with the public.”

Ramirez added, “Had these policies been in practice previously, we would not now be mourning the loss of 28 border residents and the serious injury to many more. But we we are hopeful that these changes will turn the tide on the legacy of abuse that has marked this agency for decades.”