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Use of Force by Border Officials Declines, Assaults on Officers Tick Up

Customs and Border Patrol officers and agents employed “use of force” tactics fewer times in FY 2015 than the year before even though assaults against officers increased slightly, new government data reveal.

According to a Customs and Border Protection report released Tuesday, CBP officers and agents used force 26 percent less over the past year compared to FY 2014 but experienced a nearly 5 percent increase in the number of assaults on officers.

In raw data terms, agents used force 1,037 times in FY 2014 and 768 times in FY 2015. Officers’ firearm usage remained relatively constant, firing 29 times in FY 2014 compared to 28 times in FY 2015. “Less Lethal” uses of force was the area that experienced the greatest decline from 1008 in FY 2014 to 740 instances in FY 2015.

While the use of force declined the number of assaults on officers increased slightly, bucking a three year trend that saw such altercations declining since FY 2011 when there were 675 assaults. FY 2015 was the first year since FY 2011 to experience an uptick in assaults, up to 390 from FY 2014’s 373 assaults.

Despite the trend reversal in officer assaults, CBP Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske argued that the decline in the use of force was particularly encouraging given the relatively low increase in assaults on officers.

“The data, which reflect the application of use of force by U.S. Border Patrol agents, CBP officers, and air interdiction agents, show a 26 percent reduction in the number of use of force incidents. This reduction is especially significant considering that assaults against agents and officers have essentially remained steady,” Kerlikowske said in a statement.

Civil liberties groups have criticized CBP for instances in which officers used force and last May, the agency revised its force policy handbook and training to incorporate recommendations offered by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) and Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General.

Kerlikowske attributed the decline in use of force to the efforts the agency has made over the past year.

“The steps we have taken over the past year – implementing policy changes, revamping our training, standing up a new review process, and expediting the disclosure of basic incident information to the public – are critical to achieving our mission and ensuring the trust of the American people,” he said.

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