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Body Worn Video Steering Group

American Border Patrol Tests Body Cameras

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U.S. Border Patrol agents have been testing a small number of body cameras in the field since mid-January, but widespread deployment is still a long way off, officials have said.

Customs and Border Patrol Body Worn Video Camera

Feasibility studies for Customs and Border Protection, which includes the Border Patrol, will continue for much of this year in a variety of locations in New Mexico, Texas, Florida, Michigan and Washington, said Assistant Border Patrol Chief Donna Twyford.

Twyford is a member of a working group conducting a feasibility study for CBP. She said the working group doesn’t plan to submit a final report to CBP Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske until September, the end of the fiscal year. After that, the agency will begin drafting a formal policy in negotiation with the two unions representing Border Patrol agents and CBP officers.

“This will be a very deliberative process,” Twyford said, in a telephonic press conference from Washington, D.C.

Human-rights groups welcomed the step.

“Used appropriately, these cameras will help ensure that CBP’s interaction with community members is fair and lawful,” said Vicki Gaubeca, director of the American Civil Liberties Union‘s (ACLU) Regional Center for Border Rights, in New Mexico.

Agents and officers taking part in the study are all volunteers, said Benjamine Huffman, deputy chief of the Border Patrol’s El Paso Sector. Border Patrol agents currently are testing 12 cameras out in the field in the El Paso Sector.

Next, the cameras will be tested at a Border Patrol checkpoint near Ysleta, N.M. Then the cameras will be moved to Blaine, Wash., and other locations in 30-day increments, Twyford said. The agency’s Office of Air and Marine Operations is testing 15 cameras in West Palm Beach, Fla., and in Detroit for 60 days.

CBP officers are soon to begin testing 10 cameras in the Seattle area; they will wear them at a variety of ports, including a seaport, a land crossing and an airport, Twyford said.

Twyford also said the working group has many questions to consider, including privacy concerns and other legal ramifications, cost issues and policies: how best to maintain a clean chain of custody, how long and in what form to store the data, who gets access to it, and so on. That is why completing the report will take the rest of this fiscal year, she said.

“We’re very excited and optimistic,” Huffman said. “We believe for the most part our agents do a good job. … This will allow the American public to look over our shoulder while we’re working.”

CBP employs more than 21,000 Border Patrol agents, who work between ports of entry, and a roughly similar number of CBP officers, who work at the ports of entry. The CBP’s Kerlikowske first announced last September that the agency would begin testing body cameras. The move was part of a wider response to criticisms about lack of transparency and accountability over the use of force by agents and officers.

Since 2005, Border Patrol agents and CBP officers on duty have killed more than 50 people, including many cases in which the need for deadly force has been disputed. Kerlikowske’s announcement followed changes in CBPs use-of-force policy and in how cases involving the deadly use of force are investigated.

Last September, the Department of Justice also released guidelines for the use of body cameras by law enforcement. Twyford said in addition to guidance from Justice and other studies, CBP’s working group conferred with, among others, the New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., police departments on their experience with body cameras.

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