Civil Liberties

Is the Dangerous, Scandal-Ridden Border Patrol Being Quietly Disarmed?


End Border Patrol Checkpoints/ACLU

The snowballing series of scandals, abuses, and incidents of misconduct committed by Border Patrol agents came together in an investigatory piece published by Politico last week that described the keepers of the national border—and terrifiers of many who live within it—as America's "most out-of-control law enforcement agency." Now reports out of Tucson reveal that Customs and Border Protection is taking away Border Patrol agents' assault rifles over serviceability concerns—and not replacing them. Cause? Effect? You decide.

For Politico, Garret M. Graff pointed out that border protection has exploded in recent years from a relatively backwater task to the point where "Customs and Border Protection not only employs some 60,000 total personnel—everything from desert agents on horseback to insect inspectors at airports—but also operates a fleet of some 250 planes, helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles like the Predator drones the military sent to Iraq and Afghanistan.

It's a wide-open task with few restraints, since constitutional protections are loosened within what the ACLU descibes as the the "Constitution-free zone" in a 100-mile band at the border. So Border Patrol not only watches the actual border, but mans internal checkpoints and controls access to some towns in the area. This expansion of power and personnel has come with a minimum of adult supervision and problems of abuse, misconduct, and criminal activity that trouble even some other government agencies. "The FBI in McAllen had gotten used to investigating assaults and misconduct among Border Patrol agents," Graff notes. "It had become the field office's top criminal priority."

the Border Patrol has also become one of the nation's deadliest law enforcement agencies over that same period, involved in more fatal shootings—at least 46—since 2004 than perhaps any other such agency. (As this summer's events in Ferguson, Missouri, showed, definitive statistics on fatal law enforcement shootings are notoriously difficult to collect.) An internal report last year that the agency tried to keep secret accused its agents of shooting their weapons not out of fear for their lives but instead out of "frustration."

So, what to do with a small army that seems to have slipped out of effective control?

Take note of this complaint on the website of the Tucson-area Border Patrol union:

Border Patrol M4 rifles are being deadlined at an alarming rate and not all are being replaced. Again we have to ask "HOW DID THESE PEOPLE GET IN CHARGE?" Did they honestly think that these rifles would last for ever and they wouldn't need to be replaced. How is it that managers didn't see this coming?

Tucson's News 4 expands on the story:

The News 4 Tucson Investigators have uncovered that some U.S. Border Patrol agents have lost a key part of their arsenal. And that has agents who patrol along the border here, extremely worried.

We learned that U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Offices of Border Patrol and Training and Development are inspecting the quality of agents' M4 carbines throughout Border Patrol sectors nationwide. But agents tell us, some of those M4s have not been replaced. And, we've learned, agents are required to share rifles amongst each other.

The news station notes law enforcement experts commenting that taking the rifles away seems strange. "Prather believes removing some of the rifles maybe politically motivated. He says he was told that many of these guns are being removed for issues that are easily repaired like the firing pin and bolt…That makes him suspicious that the agency could be disarming its agents."

Hmmm…Amid concerns that Border Patrol is dangerous and out of control, the government may be quietly taking guns away from agents. Interesting.