WASHINGTON — Federal officials announced Wednesday that thousands of Border Patrol agents and officers will soon begin wearing body cameras as they patrol the southwestern and northern borders, a move that immigration advocates said would improve oversight of the agency.
The policy shift comes amid allegations of aggressive behavior by Border Patrol personnel and national calls for reducing use of force by police. Customs and Border Protection has already outfitted an initial group of agents and officers with the cameras, and expects to deploy 6,000 cameras by year’s end, the agency said in a news release.
The cameras are being rolled out in phases, with officers and agents along the southwestern and northern borders being the first to get the devices. The agency did not say when, or if, all of its 45,000 agents and officers nationwide can expect to be issued cameras.
The cameras are intended to “provide greater transparency into interactions between CBP officers and agents and the public,” Customs and Border Protection acting Commissioner Troy Miller said in a statement.
The agency, which began studying the need for cameras in 2014, joins a host of local and state departments that in recent years have embraced the devices. The Justice Department in June said its agents will wear cameras when serving arrest warrants or conducting raids.
Immigration advocates welcomed the deployment. Jorge Loweree, policy director of the American Immigration Council, said in a statement that the cameras could “help increase transparency, oversight and accountability of the agency’s enforcement activities and lead to a reduction in use of force incidents.”
The National Border Patrol Council, a union that represents Border Patrol personnel, did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Wednesday’s announcement.
Border Patrol personnel will be responsible for activating their own body cameras, which will be worn on the front of their uniforms, Customs and Border Protection said in a news release. The cameras will run in the background, and will save footage beginning two minutes before the camera is activated. The footage, the agency said, will be retained “based upon the nature of the recorded incident and its evidentiary value.”
Immigration advocates and experts said they were apprehensive that agents and officers will have too much discretion in activating the devices, and may not record events worthy of being documented.
“It’ll be very easy for agents to claim that they forgot to turn on their cameras,” said Amada Armenta, a University of California, Los Angeles assistant professor of urban planning who specializes in immigration enforcement, adding that it will be hard for migrants and others to counter officers who asserted they mistakenly forgot to turn on the cameras.
Advocates also raised concerns about the privacy rights of those being recorded. “Congress will have to vigorously exercise its constitutional oversight authority to ensure that affected parties and the public have a meaningful opportunity to access recordings while ensuring that sensitive information is not released unnecessarily,” Loweree said.