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Commissioner Kerlikowske's Remarks to the Middle Eastern Law Enforcement Officers Association in Dearborn, Michigan

Release Date: 
August 10, 2016

Remarks as Prepared August 10, 2016

Thank you, Fadia. Mr. Secretary, Director Saldaña, and honored guests. I’m delighted to be here at the University of Michigan.

I’d like to thank The Honorable Judge Donald Shelton, Chair of the Criminal Justice Studies Program, and Suehalia Amen, International Admissions and Recruiting Coordinator. I also want to thank Steve Francis, President of the Middle Eastern Law Enforcement Officers Association and Deputy Special Agent in Charge of HSI here in Michigan and in Ohio.

From U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), I’d also like to recognize and thank Port Director Devin Chamberlain of CBP’s Office of Field Operations, as well as Acting Chief Joseph A. Banco, of the U.S. Border Patrol, Detroit Sector. I know we also have attendees from CBP’s sister agencies: TSA, ICE, USCIS, and the U.S. Secret Service.

My own background as a police officer for nearly four decades taught me that an effective law enforcement agency is an engaged law enforcement agency. That applies equally to the smallest rural force to a force of more than 45,000 men and women in uniform – which just happens to be U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The University of Michigan here in Dearborn is setting a great example of community engagement, having earned the Community Engagement Classification awarded by The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Likewise, diversity in our ranks – and an appreciation and recognition of the diversity of the traveling public – is also extremely important. Given the vast array of people our officers and agents encounter every day, we feel that it’s imperative that the “faces” we present at the border are reflective of the public we are sworn to serve.

That is an imperative that law enforcement officers here in and around Dearborn already understand, as Dearborn has the largest population of Arab Americans of any city in the United States – and nearly a third of the city’s residents speak Arabic.

So today, I’d like to tell you a little bit about what CBP is doing to address these important issues of community engagement and a commitment to diversity.

First, let me provide a bit of an overview for those of you who may not be that familiar with CBP. We were created in 2003 as part of the Department of Homeland Security – led by Secretary Jeh Johnson – and, as the Department’s largest component, we have an extraordinarily complex mission.

First and foremost, CBP protects our borders and our national security. Second, we facilitate the flow of lawful travelers and cargo in and out of the country, contributing to our nation’s economic security. In doing so, CBP enforces nearly 500 laws for 47 federal agencies – we are, in fact, the nation’s largest law enforcement.

That said, I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s never been more challenging to be a law enforcement professional than it is today. The challenges we face are likely the same ones that resonate through your own organizations.

This common ground we share must also serve as the foundation for cooperation, collaboration, and partnerships. I’ll talk about those partnerships as they apply to community engagement shortly, but it’s important to note that when it comes to accomplishing our border security mission, we rely on partnerships with public and private stakeholders, other Federal agencies, state and local law enforcement, and NGOs.

CBP is a vigorous participant in joint operations – because the vast scope and reach of our responsibilities practically demands it. In addition to operations on a state and local level, I want you to know that we are here to support you as well.

For example, we have an Advanced Training Center in Harpers Ferry, WV that you may find of great use to you and your members, and we can help facilitate training for you. Additionally, there is an open invitation for you to head down to the border to meet with our leadership and see firsthand our operations. We know that what goes on at the border affects your local communities. 

Trends we see at the border, and trends you see in your communities – drugs, human trafficking, and smuggling – we can and we should work together to better combat these challenges.

Regarding recruitment, CBP is committed to attracting, hiring, continually developing, and retaining a highly qualified workforce with an enduring commitment to CBP’s highest ideals, especially integrity. CBP recognizes that organizations that show a commitment to diversity and inclusion realize three benefits:

  • They’ve increased in overall performance;
  • They’re better able to address complex problems; and
  • They make better decisions.

We established an agency-wide diversity recruitment strategy that includes the development and deployment of Special Emphasis Recruitment Teams. These teams will help us recruit a workforce that reflects the diversity of America and attract veterans, minorities, and women to frontline positions.

In addition, we developed a Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan and issued a Diversity and Inclusion Policy Statement which affirms our commitment to diversity and its importance to mission effectiveness.

This fiscal year, we have held nearly 1,000 diversity and inclusion observances at CBP duty locations throughout the nation – 45 of which were for Arab American Heritage Month, which we observe annually in April. CBP regularly conducts outreach to organizations that serve Arab American communities providing information on current job opportunity announcements and internships.  

CBP also recognizes the importance of placing women in frontline positions to remain competitive with modern professional law enforcement operations.

Women comprise about 7 percent of the U.S. Marine Corps., for example. They make up more than 13 percent of the Army, 16 percent of the Navy and the Coast Guard, and nearly 20 percent of the Air Force. And yet currently only about 5 percent of the 20,000 agents in CBP’s Border Patrol are female – while, overall at CBP, more than 20 percent of our 60,000 employees are female.

In order to maximize recruitment efforts across the nation, CBP adapted to an open, continuous announcement process to allow interested individuals 24/7 access to apply to vacancies for Border Patrol agent and CBP officer positions. 

Veterans are also an important resource for CBP. To increase hiring efforts with all veterans and transitioning service members, CBP has been doing outreach events on several bases/installations across the nation, along with job announcements targeting veterans and using veterans hiring authorities. 

Of course, getting the best recruits in the world is meaningless without providing them with the proper training and resources. CBP is committed to strengthening professional skills and capabilities throughout its workforce.

Take the issue of use of force, for example. We’ve issued new guidelines for all personnel and we’ve revamped our entire training curriculum to put agents in simulated field situations so they can practice their responses when they have to make a split-second decision.

We have an agency-wide working group to evaluate the feasibility of incorporating body-worn cameras into the law enforcement operations in each of CBP’s operational environments – air, land, and sea, at and between our ports of entry.

CBP also has equipped and trained agents with less lethal devices that can protect them – tools that would be practical in the rugged terrains of the Border Patrol.

Regardless of how or when a traveler encounters a CBP officer, whether it is in primary or secondary screening, all CBP officers and agents are expected to treat everyone with dignity and respect. 

CBP has three “core values” – Vigilance; Integrity; and Service to Country. These core values all point towards the overarching importance of building and maintaining the public’s trust. Our stewardship of the public’s trust means that we must be receptive and responsive to the public’s concerns. In fact, one of my first meetings as Commissioner in 2014 was with representatives from five leading American-Arab, Muslim, and Sikh organizations in the United States. 

We’ve worked hard to improve the travel experience by ensuring awareness and sensitivity from our CBP officers at ports of entry and from our Border Patrol agents between ports of entry. 

For example, CBP’s Office of Field Operations – the officers in blue uniforms who inspect travelers and cargo at our ports of entry – has established the Integrity and Professionalism Standards Division to further develop and govern officer integrity, professionalism, and leadership.

Professionalism Service Managers respond to traveler concerns and issues, monitor the overall traveler processing procedure, recommend improvements, and inform managers, supervisors, and officers on customer service and professionalism.

Transparency is also critical to winning and maintaining public trust. One of the first things I did as Commissioner was to make our policies and processes more transparent to the people we serve. Our transparency and accountability efforts include:

  • the release of our Use of Force Policy Handbook;
  • our adoption of a unified formal review process under the National Use of Force Review Board;
  • our creation of specially trained, multi-disciplinary teams operating under direction of an Internal Affairs Incident Commander;
  • our implementation of new and enhanced training and equipment; and
  • our update of standard operating procedures for the release of information in response to use of force incidents that result in death or serious bodily injury.

I also want to be clear that, under my leadership, CBP is looking inward as well as outward – policing our own ranks. We continue to emphasize the need for personal responsibility by every employee for ethical behavior – on and off duty. 

In 2014, Secretary Johnson delegated to CBP the authority to investigate our employees for alleged criminal misconduct. This is a huge milestone for our agency, and Secretary Johnson is to be commended for granting us this authority investigate our own cases of alleged criminal misconduct.

Now, a few words about community engagement – and in this regard, MELOA is a valued partner. MELOA has a significant number of members from CBP and I am proud to support these members in their vision and commitment to community.

I want to share a few examples of how this teamwork benefits communities. Just last week, CBP, ICE, and MELOA participated in a “Hometown Heroes”-themed summer camp outreach at the HYPE Recreation Center in Dearborn Heights. CBP, ICE, and MELOA also partnered at an outreach event at Sterling Heights High School where they spoke to high school seniors about the importance of higher education and about careers in DHS. MELOA presented their very first scholarships to two high school seniors interested in careers in law enforcement.

The CBP Explorer Program is also an initiative that I have believed in since my first years on the job, and I couldn’t be more proud to serve as the Chair of the National Law Enforcement Exploring Committee.

When a federal, state, or local law enforcement agency sponsors an Exploring Post, they are investing in their communities, in youth who have aspirations to work in law enforcement, and our future, because so many of these explorers go on to be agents and officers across federal, state, and local law enforcement.

CBP’s Explorer post in Detroit has worked with community organizations such as HYPE Athletics in Dearborn Heights during HYPE’s Halloween Safety Night, and it has partnered with the Dearborn and Dearborn Heights Police Departments to help ensure that children safely cross streets.

CBP also regularly engages in community outreach and law enforcement meetings related to the Arab, Middle Eastern, and Muslim communities, such as the Building Respect in Diverse Groups to Enhance Sensitivity (BRIDGES) group.

In closing, let me emphasize that CBP aspires to be the standard bearer for other customs and border security administrations around the globe. We’re committed to earning the public’s trust in us every time an officer or agent puts on his or her badge.

MELOA is a great example of DHS employees volunteering their time and building trust in their communities – trust and engagement that clearly reflect and uphold DHS’s new mission statement: With honor and integrity, we will safeguard the American people, our homeland, and our values.

Thank you for this opportunity to join you here today to discuss CBP’s mission and how we serve the public. 

Last modified: 
February 8, 2017