Baby Steps Toward Transparency
Last week, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) took another small step toward transparency – issuing a Request for Quote (RFQ) for 108 body-worn cameras and 12 vehicle-mounted cameras. It probably seems strange to get even a little bit excited about the announcement of a bureaucratic process, but in the case of CBP transparency, every step, even baby steps, are important after years of push-back and blockades in the fight for body-worn cameras. Despite the ever-growing evidence that body-worn cameras benefit all parties, CBP has failed to implement the use of these cameras throughout the field.
In a statement, CBP Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske said, “CBP is committed to expanding the use of cameras to increase transparency, accountability, and officer and agent safety. The body-worn and vehicle-mounted cameras from this purchase will be tested by agents and officers in the field. What we learn from this initial deployment to several operational environments will help CBP refine requirements that will lead to a larger procurement in the near future.”
Last November, CBP announced its intention to conduct more testing and evaluation rather than actually implement a program to employ the use of body-worn cameras. As I said back in November, it is beyond belief that, given all that we know about the power of video to shine a light on the actions of law enforcement agents and officers, as well as those who are involved in encounters with agents and officers, CBP is still dragging its heels on this initiative. As the nation’s largest law enforcement agency, CBP should lead the way toward transparency and set the standard, rather than keep things hidden away in the desert, bushes, canyons, and riverbanks.
Delays in the full implementation of body-worn cameras have undoubtedly led to the loss of life and continuing abuses which could have been avoided. In addition, with cameras, Border Patrol officers will be more likely to come home safe to their families, as will immigrants intercepted at the border. It is time for CBP to let go of its dark history of cover-ups involving use-of-force actions. The time is now to take action to protect the lives of Border Patrol officers and immigrants whose lives have been lost in questionable scenarios. Congress needs to act and approve appropriations to allow CBP to invest in these critical resources. Lives depend on it. Transparency mandates it.
Written by Victor Nieblas Pradis, AILA Immediate Past President