SAN ANTONIO — “But in terms of them saying rocks don't equate to gunfire, we are diametrically opposed.”
Those were the words of Shawn Moran, vice president and spokesman for the National Border Patrol Council, the union for Border Patrol agents. He was reacting to guidelines issued for agents on the use of force.
In his words might be the seeds of the problem. And why the Border Patrol should issue stricter rules.
Rocks aren't bullets, in the level of threat posed or the likelihood of causing serious injury or death. Rocks can be deadly but not as reliably so as bullets. Rocks can be dodged. Less so with bullets.
Firing on moving cars is also hard to justify for a number of reasons, which is why a whole lot of police agencies tell their officers not to do it. Think unguided missile after a bullet takes out the driver.
Border Patrol chief Michael Fisher's directive advises agents to seek cover from rocks thrown by people across the border.
Good, but this followed last month's Los Angeles Times article about a report on the agency's use of deadly force. Among the findings: Agents were standing in front of fleeing vehicles, seemingly as pretext to shoot. The report, by the Police Executive Research Forum at the Border Patrol's request, examined files on 67 shootings, resulting in 19 deaths, from January 2010 to October 2012.
According to a San Antonio Express-News article by Jason Buch, Fisher placed the agency's figures at 10 dead in 43 instances of deadly force since 2010. In that period, agents were assaulted with rocks 1,713 times. Fisher's directive on seeking cover from rocks reflects a basic principle — the level of force applied must match “the totality of circumstances.”
This obviously applies in the matter of fleeing vehicles, which is why a thorough use-of-force policy Fisher promises should spell that out.
But why, by the way, did it take a newspaper to release that use-of-force report, not the agency?
The report's suggestion that the Border Patrol does not adequately investigate use-of-deadly-force incidents also requires a response and, if true, a remedy.