The Office of Public Affairs (OPA) in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has proven to be quite adept at controlling Border Patrol communications with the media and the public at large. Every media request for information about Border Patrol operations, regardless of import, must be channeled through an OPA filter. Information requests are routinely denied or unreasonably delayed by OPA, but the Border Patrol is invariably blamed for the lack of transparency. The refusal of OPA to release the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) use of force policy is a prime example.
The CBP use of force continuum provides guidelines for the use of force when a Border Patrol Agent encounters a resistant suspect who refuses to obey lawful commands. The lower end of the continuum includes abstract principles like “officer presence” and “projection of authority” to persuade compliance. The continuum provides for increasing levels of force necessary to overcome resistance, up to and including deadly force. The amount of force used must be the minimum amount necessary to accomplish the task at hand. Border Patrol Agents are not authorized to use deadly force unless they believe a suspect poses an imminent danger of death or great bodily harm to the Agent or another person, and the suspect has the opportunity, ability and intent to do so.
Unless there has been a radical departure from historic Federal law enforcement use of force guidelines since my retirement, what I’ve written is the standard Border Patrol Agents must adhere to. It is a sound, time-tested policy that is consistent across the Government and it has served to protect Border Patrol Agents and the public, as well as suspects who actively resist arrest.
I believe the public has every right to examine Border Patrol use of force policies. The Border Patrol is the largest law enforcement agency in our Government and its Agents make more arrests and are involved in more shootings than any other Federal agency. OPA’s refusal to provide the Border Patrol use of force policy to members of the media is patently unreasonable and a disservice to the men and women who serve in a green uniform.
The media routinely bemoans their inability to obtain information that should be available to the public, but they frequently identify the Border Patrol as the entity refusing to cooperate. The Border Patrol no longer has the capacity to protect and preserve its own relationship with the media and the public because “communication experts” have taken over messaging and information distribution. OPA has made even the most mundane information requests concerning arrest statistics and operations prohibitively burdensome by demanding a Freedom of Information Act request for virtually everything.
The public doesn’t understand the lack of transparency regarding use of force policies. Every Border Patrol Agent I have spoken with is frustrated that OPA is permitted to harm the agency’s standing in the communities they serve. Media criticism and public dissatisfaction will not abate until OPA’s unreasonable, obsessive restriction of Border Patrol communications is halted.
The official CBP/OPA website identifies Melanie Roe as the person in charge of the component. An excerpt from her official bio appears below. She is likely a great political communicator, but OPA policies are not serving the men and women patrolling our borders well.
“Prior to joining DHS, Roe worked on the 2004 and 2008 presidential campaigns. During the 2004 cycle, she traveled daily with Sen. John Kerry as a speechwriting and communication aide. In 2008, she served as deputy communication director for then-vice presidential candidate Joe Biden. She also worked on the Democratic National Convention in Denver, where she was responsible for all operations inside the convention hall. She also served as a spokesperson for the Presidential Inaugural Committee in 2009.”