Border Patrol must wear body cameras


Body cameras for cops make sense. Nearly everyone supports their use - Republicans and Democrats, police and the public they serve. So it's strange that the Customs and Border Patrol agency is slow-walking their adoption, and pledging to use them only if the unions agree.

"Today, Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske announced that the agency would spend three additional months studying whether body-worn cameras (BWCs) are suitable for deployment by CBP," the Cato Institute reported on Thursday. "The agency has been studying BWC deployment since 2014, and the effort comes after years of intense pressure by non-governmental organizations over a pattern of lethal use-of-force incidents since 2010."

Cato adds that "the draft feasibility report released by CBP appears to give federal employee unions virtual veto power over the deployment of the cameras, stating ‘Successful union negotiations are required prior to implementation.'"

The advantages of body cameras are clear, and they go beyond simply reducing the number of frivolous complaints against officers. The fact is that everyone acts differently when they're being recorded - they're more polite, more cooperative and less confrontational. That goes for the cops, too.

The city of Tyler, for the record, is ahead of the curve on this one. It had cameras ordered for its officers before the technology became part of the national conversation.

So why is the Border Patrol dragging its feet?

Here's one reason it gives: "Implementation of a BWC program may be interpreted as a lack of trust in officers/agents, which could negatively impact morale and create mistrust and suspicion between officers/agents and management. Officers/agents involved in the study were concerned about the BWC video being used for disciplinary actions and uncertain about the BWC technology capabilities and limitations."

Here's another: "The BWCs increase the cognitive load experienced by officer/agents, causing them to redirect their attention towards the operation of the camera versus allowing them to focus on the encounter. BWCs may also cause an officer/agent to second-guess a course of action."

Cato explained that those reasons aren't valid.

"Body cameras may take some getting used to, but the fact that some officers find operating the cameras difficult or distracting should not prevent the CBP from deploying body cameras," it wrote. "After all, dash cameras also presumably increased officers' ‘cognitive load' and caused some officers to second-guess their actions. And yet, dash cameras are now considered perfectly normal law enforcement tools."

As for the claim that body cameras can't record feelings, of course they can't. But they can add evidence and context to an investigation into a confrontation. They don't provide the whole picture, but they do provide a very important part of it - the visual record.

"It is crucial that the CBP gets its body camera policy right," the Cato Institute noted. "While many Americans may think of the CBP as an agency that only operates on our nation's borders, its officers can search the roughly two thirds of Americans who live within 100 miles thanks to its internal checkpoints."

CBP should implement body cameras. Now.

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