HARLINGEN, Texas (Border Report) — All Department of Homeland Security law enforcement officers soon will be required to wear body cameras, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced Tuesday.
This includes Border Patrol agents and U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at ports of entry using equipment that will record video and audio.
The equipment will be phased in over time, and all agency departments must have plans in place for distributing and implementing body-worn cameras within 180 days for the 80,000 law enforcement officers within the agency, according to a memo issued by Mayorkas.
Mayorkas says he hopes this will further build “public trust.”
“Our ability to secure the homeland rests on public trust, which is built through accountability, transparency, and effectiveness in our law enforcement practices,” Mayorkas said. “Requiring the use of body-worn cameras by our law enforcement officers and agents is another important step DHS is making to bring our law enforcement workforce to the forefront of innovation, and to further build public trust and confidence in the thousands of dedicated and professional law enforcement officers at DHS.”
The officers will be required to wear the devices when on patrol, during emergency calls, during pre-planned arrests, and during the execution of search or seizure warrants.
But body cameras will not be worn in courtrooms, hospitals or medical facilities, and places where privacy is expected, the memo says. However there could be exceptions to this.
Given those guidelines, it is unlikely that a CBP officer would have been wearing a body camera to record the moments leading up to the death of an 8-year-old Panamanian girl in a CBP medical quarantine wing last week in Harlingen, Texas.
The girl had been isolated for the flu and other medical ailments four days after she and her family were transferred from a CBP processing facility in Donna, Texas.
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat and ranking member of the House Homeland Security Appropriations Committee, on Tuesday told Border Report he has been pushing for the agency to utilize this technology for years.
“It’s something that I certainly support. And I think it’s important, especially to de-escalate situations and get evidence. Instead of saying, ‘he said, she said, he said, she said,’ you actually have the cameras there. So I think this will be an important policy. And I think it’s good that the secretary is expanding this to everybody under Homeland,” Cuellar said.
He says body-worn cameras already are being used in the Rio Grande Valley and Laredo Border Patrol Sectors.
The equipment also has been piloted and tested since 2021 in the border cities of El Paso, Sasabe, Arizona, and Las Cruces, New Mexico. Device prototypes also have been piloted in other cities like Newark, New Jersey; Indianapolis; Atlanta; and New York City, DHS says.
“The bottom line is this is more to be used when they’re out there in the field, whether they’re on a road, or they’re in some lonely patch ranch out there, or they’re by the river bank somewhere. That’s what we’re looking at,” Cuellar said.
Cuellar says part of the delay in implementing the technology has been a debate for years at the federal level over how and where to store the data retrieved, and for how long.
Although the equipment has never before been issued department-wide, it must be able to conform to allow officers to perform rigorous daily tactical and field operations, Border Report has learned. This includes chasing smugglers and drug-runners in the hot, 100-degree weather in South Texas brush, and CBP officers at ports searching for hidden migrants in vehicle holds.
This new department-wide policy “builds on pilots, testing, and phased rollouts,” the agency said in a statement, and it forbids officers from using personally-owned body cameras or other video, audio or digital recording devices when they are on the job.
The devices should be seen strapped to agents and officers by Thanksgiving, which is something migrant advocates say is long overdue.
“We know that there have been abuses, I think that Mayorkas is probably recognizing that there is a problem with the way people at the border and in border regions are treated,” Joshua Rubin, founder of the organization Witness at the Border, told Border Report. “It’s not going to solve all of our problems. We have an immigration policy in this country that’s inhumane, but maybe it will save a few people. And maybe it will also help us cast a light on what’s going on, hidden from sight now. The largest police force in the world needs somebody watching.”
Joshua Rubin, Witness at the Border founder
The largest police force in the world needs somebody watching.”
The Fiscal Year 2024 DHS budget requests over $55 million for Incident Driven Video Recording Systems, which include body-worn cameras, Cuellar’s office says. This would fund 4,500 body cameras for CBP officers, as well as 4,275 Office of Field Operations officers, and IT software to support the devices. As part of that, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement have requested $15 million, which would fund 11,000 body-worn cameras for ICE officers.
Some videos taken from body-worn cameras in the DHS pilot programs in Las Cruces, New Mexico; and Sasabe, Arizona, can be seen on the DHS website.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com