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U.S. undertakes review of border officers’ use of force

Sat., Dec. 8, 2012, 12:05 a.m.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has launched what it calls a comprehensive review of its officers’ use of force amid a sharp increase in fatal confrontations along the Southwest border.

The initiative, which appears to be the most far-reaching of its kind in recent years, calls for an assessment of current tactics and the participation of an independent outside research center.

Mexican government officials, who have condemned the shootings, also will be provided briefings on closed investigations involving force, according to a memorandum prepared for Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

The memorandum, dated Oct. 24, 2012, is from David Aguilar, the agency’s deputy commissioner.

Since 2010, 16 people have been killed in fatal confrontations with Border Patrol agents and customs officers, prompting unprecedented levels of scrutiny and criticism from some U.S. Congress members and border activists. Agency guidelines permit agents to fire weapons against people suspected of throwing rocks, a practice that critics consider excessive.

Recent incidents that stirred protests include the shooting in October of a 16-year-old suspected rock thrower in Nogales, Mexico, and the September shooting of a man on the banks of the Rio Grande in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. Mexican authorities say the man was picnicking with his family.

In San Diego, protests erupted over the 2010 death of a man who suffered a fatal heart attack after being shocked with a stun gun in a scuffle. About half of the fatal incidents in recent years involved rock throwers. In most cases the agents involved were cleared of wrongdoing.

The Homeland Security Department’s Office of Inspector General is also conducting a review of the incidents. U.S. authorities will ramp up efforts to improve coordination with Mexican authorities in high-risk areas, according to the memorandum. They are also pressing Mexico to establish a specially trained border unit.

Customs and Border Protection officials said the review should be completed by the end of January.


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