The U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported a drop in uses of force by about 26% last year, even as some agents in more remote sections of the Southwest border reported an increase in incidents.
Border patrol agents reported 756 uses of force in fiscal year 2015, a drop from 1037 the year before. The agency said the 26% drop in use of force is significant considering that assaults against agents remain steady. Assaults in fiscal year 2014 were 373 and 390 the following year.
The CPB published its use of force numbers for the first time last year, but this is the first time the agency released a breakdown by sector.
Agents in the Big Bend sector, the largest and most remote area along the Southwest border patrolled by CBP that covers more than 420 miles of river in Texas, reported using their guns five times.
The only other sector, out of 18, that used their gun more times was the urban San Diego section with six firearms being discharged.
CBP did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News requests for comment on the the use of firearms in these sectors.
So far this fiscal year, Oct. 1 to Feb. 29, the El Centro area reported 65 uses of force, more than any other sector.
The report released by CBP shows the number of times use of force has been used, but doesn’t detail each use of force incident. There could be multiple times force is used in an incident.
Since his confirmation in March 2014, Customs and Border Protection Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske has been pushing for reforms inside the agency and the release of information to increase transparency.
In November, CBP put off a decision to outfit its agents with body cameras. The move upset some border and immigrant advocacy groups who say the cameras would increase transparency and confidence.
Christian Ramirez, director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition and human rights director at Alliance San Diego, said releasing these figures is not enough. In particular because the agency didn’t release information on whether the use of force was justified.
“It is a step towards greater transparency for CBP,” Ramirez said. “However, meaningful transparency in the form of body-worn cameras must be implemented and accompanied with robust accountability mechanisms in order to address the culture of impunity that has plagued CBP."
Since January 2010, nearly 50 people have died as a result of an encounter with CBP officials, Ramirez said in a statement. At least 33 deaths resulted from the use of lethal force.
The border patrol has come under intense scrutiny and criticism from immigrant advocates over agent-involved shootings. In October, a border patrol agent pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder in the shooting death a teenager on the Mexican side of the border.
A 2013 comprehensive review of the agency’s use of force and allegations of abuse and violent misconduct found that of 67 agent-related shootings between January 2010 and October 2012, 19 resulted in deaths. The report also found that agents had repeatedly stepped in front of fleeing cars to justify opening fire, and that they shot at rock throwers from across the border instead of simply moving out of harm’s way.
Read the report.
Adolfo Flores is a national security correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles. He focuses on immigration.
Contact Adolfo Flores at email@example.com.
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