U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced on Wednesday that the federal agency had started outfitting some agents and officers with body-worn cameras “to better enhance its policing practices and reinforce trust and transparency.”
A CBP news release described the move as a “targeted deployment” and “a first step toward broader implementation.” CBP said it expects to deploy about 7,500 cameras in phases, with 6,000 in use by the end of this year.
Reuters reported, “The cameras are expected to be rolled out in parts of Texas and New Mexico during the summer and expanded in the fall and winter to Arizona, California, and Texas’ busy Rio Grande Valley, which all border Mexico, according to a recent government assessment of how the devices could impact privacy.” In addition, some agents in Vermont along the U.S.-Canada border will also wear the cameras.
“Our agents and officers serve the public and protect our borders every day with great skill and professionalism,” said Troy Miller, CBP Acting Commissioner. “Providing them with state-of-the-art technology and tools like body-worn cameras will support their work and provide greater transparency into interactions between CBP officers and agents and the public.”
According to Reuters, “Pro-immigrant activists will likely welcome the increased oversight that cameras could bring to an agency some have criticized for excessive use of force and institutional racism.”
Over the past decade, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has pushed CBP to utilize body cameras. Forbes reported that the group has filed lawsuits against the agency, including one last year over the 2018 death of a Guatemalan woman who was fatally shot by a Border Patrol agent. The FBI is investigating the incident.
CBP said it first started evaluating the feasibility of body-worn cameras in the field in 2014.
More details from CBP:
Body-worn cameras are part of the agency’s new Incident-Driven Video Recording Systems program, which records and stores video and audio data to support the agency’s mission. The cameras are roughly the size of a deck of playing cards – agents and officers will wear them on the front of their uniforms. The cameras will be running continuously in the background, and once an agent or officer activates a camera, it begins to save the footage starting two minutes before the activation of the camera. CBP has drafted protocols for agents and officers to follow when activating their cameras, with safety of personnel and the public as the foremost considerations in shaping the policy. Footage is retained based upon the nature of the recorded incident and its evidentiary value.
A CBP official told Reuters that the agency awarded about $21 million to Axon Enterprises Inc for body cameras compatible with a cloud-based storage system. Forbes described Axon as “an Arizona-based company formerly named after its first product, Taser.” The company says it works with all branches of the military and supports law enforcement with products like body cameras, tasers, and other equipment.