After border agents were accused of using various tactics to justify killing border crossers, the government issued new guidelines on Friday clarifying its use-of-force policy.
The U.S. Border Patrol agency announced that it will begin adhering to standards that limit when border agents can use deadly force on border crossers. At the same time, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) made public its deadly force policy for the first time.
The U.S. Border Patrol released a directive — effective immediately — stating that agents “shall not discharge their firearms at a moving vehicle unless the agent has a reasonable belief, based on the totality of the circumstances that deadly force is being used against an agent or another person present.” Agents can only use deadly force when a moving vehicle is driving at them, but the use of deadly force does not extend to “moving vehicles merely fleeing from agents.” The directive also prohibits agents from placing themselves “in the path of a moving vehicle or [using] their body to block a vehicle’s path” — significant given that the leaked review found that agents deliberately blocked vehicles in order to justify shooting the driver.
The DHS use of deadly force policy from 2004 also allows agents to use warning shots and to engage in alternative tactics when the use of deadly force is not authorized. In his statement released Friday, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said, “transparency is essential to the credibility of a law enforcement agency within the communities it operates.”
Both agencies have been under intense scrutiny after last week’s leaked Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) independent review. According to the Los Angeles Times, CBP rejected two recommendations to bar its agents from shooting at vehicles unless the car occupants were trying to kill them and to bar agents from shooting at people who throw things that can’t cause serious harm.
Since 2005, border agents have killed at least 42 people, including 13 Americans, according to the Arizona Republic. And since 2010, border agents have been assaulted with rocks 1,713 times “and responded with deadly force 43 times, resulting in 10 deaths,” according to the New York Times.