In an announcement this past Wednesday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) stated that the federal agency will start issuing and outfitting its agents and officers with body-worn cameras “to better enhance its policing practices and reinforce trust and transparency.”
A news release from the CBP talked about the move as a “targeted deployment” and “a first step toward broader implementation.” CBP stated that it expects to send forth roughly 7,500 cameras in phases, with a plan to have over 6,000 out by the end of the year.
As reported by Reuters, “The cameras are expected to be rolled out in parts of Texas and New Mexico during the summer and expanded in the fall and winter to Arizona, California, and Texas’ busy Rio Grande Valley, which all border Mexico, according to a recent government assessment of how the devices could impact privacy.” Additionally, a small set of agents located in Vermont along the U.S.-Canada border will also be issued the body cameras.
“Our agents and officers serve the public and protect our borders every day with great skill and professionalism,” stated Troy Miller, the Acting Commissioner of the CBP. “Providing them with state-of-the-art technology and tools like body-worn cameras will support their work and provide greater transparency into interactions between CBP officers and agents and the public.”
Also stated by Reuters, “Pro-immigrant activists will likely welcome the increased oversight that cameras could bring to an agency some have criticized for excessive use of force and institutional racism.”
As we have seen in the past decade, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has aggressively pushed the CBP to make use of body cameras. As reported by Forbes, the group has filed multiple lawsuits aimed at the agency, including one this past year over the 2019 death of a woman from Guatemala who had been fatally shot by Border Patrol agents. Currently, the FBI is still investigating the incident.
CBP has stated that it first began evaluating the idea of body-worn cameras on its agents back in 2014.
As stated by the CBP:
Body-worn cameras are part of the agency’s new Incident-Driven Video Recording Systems program, which records and stores video and audio data to support the agency’s mission. The cameras are roughly the size of a deck of playing cards – agents and officers will wear them on the front of their uniforms. The cameras will be running continuously in the background, and once an agent or officer activates a camera, it begins to save the footage starting two minutes before the activation of the camera. CBP has drafted protocols for agents and officers to follow when activating their cameras, with safety of personnel and the public as the foremost considerations in shaping the policy. Footage is retained based upon the nature of the recorded incident and its evidentiary value.