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Commissioner Kerlikowske’s Remarks for the Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC) Meeting

Release Date: 
September 29, 2015

Remarks as prepared for September 29, 2015

I am pleased to be here today. I would like to thank the HSAC leadership for this opportunity to bring everyone up-to-date on what U.S. Customs and Border Protection is doing to meet – and, wherever possible – exceed the interim recommendations of the Integrity Advisory Panel. I also want to recognize and thank Karen Tandy and Bill Bratton for their wise counsel, their deep understanding of the issues, and their tireless commitment and dedication to the Panel’s work.

CBP has made meaningful strides in implementing the recommendations in the Panel’s June 29 Interim Report.

First, I’d like to talk about Integrity. CBP fosters a culture of integrity, where every employee is held to the highest standard of honest and ethical conduct. 

At the direction of the Secretary, criminal investigative authority was restored earlier this year to the Commissioner of CBP. This enables CBP to initiate and conduct internal affairs investigations of criminal employee misconduct – an authority CBP previously relied on Immigration and Customs Enforcement to execute.

CBP now has the primary authority to conduct independent internal criminal investigations. This authority will translate to more timely and transparent misconduct investigations. The Secretary’s decision provides CBP the means to ensure integrity within the CBP workforce and improve CBP’s responsiveness, transparency, and accountability. 

This change is a significant step forward, aligning CBP with best law enforcement practices throughout the country and providing the largest federal law enforcement agency with the authority and responsibility to address criminal misconduct of CBP personnel.

We continue to address the panel’s recommendations on ensuring integrity by emphasizing the need for personal responsibility by every employee for ethical behavior, on and off duty.

Regarding integrity, the panel concluded that an agency of CBP’s size – 60,000 employees – requires hundreds more internal affairs investigators. Currently, we have less than half of the panel’s recommended number.

As a result of the IAP’s recommendations, Internal Affairs has taken two significant steps to assure integrity. First, IA has formed the Field Office/Model Office Working Group to examine IA’s field structure and staffing as it compares to that of Border Patrol and Office of Field Operations. The working group’s findings are being reviewed now. Second, IA will initiate a workforce/workload analysis to determine an appropriate staffing level of 1811 criminal investigators.

This analysis will take into account several factors, to include: the number and complexity of cases; the investigators’ skill levels; the number and nature of work tasks; and geographic differences, as well as the ratio-based recommendations set forth by the IAP and benchmark data obtained from other agencies.

CBP has embraced the Panel’s recommendations about Use of Force. With the updated CBP Use of Force Policy Handbook, which we released publicly and posted on our website, we included language to emphasize our overarching responsibility to preserve human life and to employ use of force tactics only when justified and consistent with CBP policy.

We revamped our basic firearms and less-than-lethal training programs to incorporate safe tactics and de-escalation techniques. We enhanced our scenario-based training at our academies and this training has been made a mandatory annual requirement for all CBP law enforcement personnel.

We are also in the process of deploying “virtual” simulators at our academies as well as in the field. These simulators turn real world incidents and images into virtual scenarios for use in firearms and less-lethal use of force training. These scenarios, based on “best practices” and “lessons learned,” can be created and distributed to CBP officers and agents at field locations across the country. CBP has purchased several virtual simulators, and has started deploying them to the field. CBP also is making these simulators available to state and local law enforcement.

We also established a Center of Excellence to manage our use of force program. The Center is responsible for the development and articulation of CBP’s use of force policy and oversees a comprehensive and fully operational program that: conducts training standardization audits; reviews incidents to identify enhancements to existing training; evaluates use of force instructional delivery; and reviews weapon accountability and procurement to ensure that use of force training, equipment, and policies meet CBP’s operational requirements.

CBP will never shy away from improving our processes and identifying deficiencies to strengthen our agency, particularly in the realm of use of force. To that end and also in fulfillment of the panel’s recommendations on use of force, CBP has implemented a unified, formal review process for use of force incidents involving a death or serious bodily injury. CBP created the use of force incident team, or UFIT.

The UFIT is a multi-office investigative unit, whose purpose is to: conduct a thorough, factual, and objective investigation into a use of force incident involving death or serious injury; prepare a comprehensive report appropriate for the type of incident involved; and promptly report and subsequently track observations, recommendations, and instructions including any suggested policy changes or the need for referral for further administrative or disciplinary review.

More than 200 CBP employees around the country have received UFIT training. As of September 17, CBP has dispatched teams to 12 use of force incidents, five of which resulted in fatalities.

Additionally, as part of the process, an interagency board will review use of force incidents to determine compliance with policy and best law enforcement practices for training, tactics, and equipment.

These Use of Force Review Boards (UFRBs) perform two functions. First, the UFRB makes a determination regarding whether the use of force was consistent with CBP policy. Second, the UFRB makes findings and recommendations regarding tactics, training, equipment and policy issues.

The three national boards also have generated numerous recommendations regarding tactics, training, equipment, and policy. These recommendations are being reviewed by the affected operational component and the Use of Force Center of Excellence. This review process will help us resolve use of force incidents in a timely and transparent manner.

Finally, we are the first Federal agency to conduct a feasibility study of body-worn cameras. I’m currently reviewing the results from this feasibility study and determining a path forward for CBP.

These steps have generated positive results. The number of assaults against our personnel has remained steady, but there has been a 28 percent reduction in the number of use of force incidents. While attacks on our officers and agents show no signs of slowing, these employees exercised more restraint, thanks to CBP’s new policies and training.

As all of you know, sometimes, law enforcement agencies have to respond to difficult situations that grab the attention of the media and generate interest from all kinds of stakeholders. Transparency is critical in these situations. And we are constantly striving to improve our responses, our processes for dealing with issues, and improving our relationships with those we serve.

One of the first things I did as Commissioner was to try to make our policies and processes more transparent to the people we serve. During the first 100 days of my tenure, as I mentioned earlier, I released the revised use of force policy handbook as well as a consultant study from the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF).

CBP is committed to accountability and transparency in use of force situations, but more must be done to earn and maintain public trust. As part of that commitment to transparency, CBP has implemented a highly effective Border Community Liaison (BCL) program that has replaced individual and disjointed community outreach efforts, creating in their place a unified, effective approach.

BCLs are a win-win, for CBP and the communities we serve. They provide CBP with a fact-based understanding of community views, concerns and issues as they relate to CBP. At the same time, the programs help communities learn about CBP’s mission, functions, authorities and responsibilities.

These relationships encourage communication, engagement, and collaboration, all of which are essential hallmarks of transparency. Through the BCLs and other programs, CBP is also thoroughly engaged in an ongoing dialogue with stakeholders.

Considering the BCLs’ impact, Border Patrol and the Office of Public Affairs will work closely and continue their information sharing as they have the same objective of communicating the same message to distinct audiences – OPA to the media and BP to border community stakeholders and groups. This ongoing practice will occur during normal operations as well as in crisis operations, contributing to the transparency of CBP’s operations. 

We are currently establishing a fully-integrated Spanish-language capability in CBP’s call center to provide more transparency in the complaint process and to serve our Spanish-speaking stakeholders more efficiently. This is a significant investment by CBP and we’re in the process of hiring new full-time equivalent staff. As of August 2015, CBP has hired four individuals and continues working to fill the remaining vacancies with qualified candidates as quickly as possible.

Finally, CBP’s Office of Public Affairs updated its standard operating procedures for the release of information in response to use of force incidents that result in death or serious bodily injury. 

In closing, I want to thank the Committee and the Panel. Your recommendations are making CBP an even stronger agency, and I look forward to the Panel’s final report in a few months. Your input is helping CBP to improve and refine its processes, and each step we take makes us more effective in our complex mission of securing and protecting our borders while facilitating lawful travel and trade.

Last modified: 
February 8, 2017