National Border Patrol Council questions effectiveness of body-worn cameras

National Border Patrol Council questions effectiveness of body-worn cameras

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - With many law enforcement agencies outfitting officers with body-worn cameras, the federal government has looked into spending close to $100 million on the technology for border patrol agents.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials conducted a feasibility study and put the cameras to the test, and the results were not so impressive.

In a 23-page report, officials pointed out some of their findings which included:

  • Body-worn cameras caused officers/agents to have reduced situational awareness during an encounter, as they were more concerned whether their camera was on or off, and pointed in the right direction rather than having all their attention on the situation and person they were confronting.
  • The time to upload videos was excessive and could reduce available enforcement hours.
  • Several officers/agents expressed the body-worn cameras caused agents to be more guarded in the field and their conversations, thus limiting exchange of information, hindering intelligence gathering, and rapport building with public and private land managers.
  • Lack of video stabilization and wind noise made some videos less useful.
  • Officers/agents indicated the body-worn cameras did not have sufficient video quality during night operations.

After reviewing the findings, the National Border Patrol Council released a statement on the use of body-worn cameras. NBPC officials stressed while they were not opposed to the use of body-worn cameras, they questioned whether it was an effective use of taxpayer dollars when there were so many other pressing needs.

In a press release officials stated:

Our position on Body Worn Cameras is the same position we have on any proposed new technology, equipment or program. It requires us to always ask three simple questions:

  1. Will the equipment work in the harsh and varied conditions our agents operate in?
  2. Does the program/equipment enhance Border Security?
  3. Is this expenditure more important than other critical needs, including additional Agents in the field, vehicles and a communications system that enable agents to talk to each other in the field?

The recently completed body-worn camera feasibility study report issued by CBP Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowkse found that the cameras utilized in the extensive field study did not perform well.

The feasibility study report states, "Most of the BWCs available in the marketplace today provide limited effectiveness, and for the most part are not suited for CBP operational use."

In fact, the study pointed out that the video quality in low light was poor and the audio in windy conditions was nearly inaudible.

"The Border Patrol is a unique and specialized law enforcement agency that operates in some of the most remote areas of the country. We are not an urban police force and equipment that works in urban areas doesn't necessarily work for us.

"Today, our nation faces enormous challenges at our borders, from the continued onslaught of unaccompanied minors, to the threats posed by drug cartels, human smugglers and terrorists. We must remain focused on securing our border and cannot divert an estimated $100 million-plus for equipment that 1) does not work in our harsh conditions, 2) fails to enhance border security and 3) is a lesser priority than other pressing needs on the Border."

Art Del Cueto, the president of the Local 2544 Border Patrol union added that agents worked in very rough conditions that the cameras did not seem well suited for.

"We don't just stay in our vehicle. We are out there in the middle of nowhere. In the desert it's dusty, it's raining, it's muggy. You've got agents going up and down hills. They slide down the hills. The terrain is very rough," Del Cueto said.

NBPC represents about 18,000 Border Patrol agents and support personnel throughout the nation.

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