In the last few years there have been several highly publicized prosecutions of Border Patrol agents (Badge toting, gun carrying members of the Border Patrol are both agents and officers. They are agents of the Border Patrol and officers of the law). The most notorious was the one where two Border Patrol agents were sent to prison for shooting a drug smuggler in the butt.
This case received national coverage and many people were ready to storm the courthouse to gain the release of the officers. Sad to say, while I disagree with the severity of penalties they were given, I do not disagree with the verdict, because they really were guilty. You see, at the time they shot at the guy, they did not know that he was a drug smuggler. They only knew that he abandoned a vehicle and was running away. They found the drugs in the vehicle later.
Then they tried to cover up the incident. Bad decision!
Up until they started covering up the incident they were innocent of any crime. If they had gone back to the station and written a memo stating that they stopped the vehicle, the driver bailed out and fled, and while in foot pursuit they saw him turn and point a gun at them, at which point they fired on the suspect, they would have been innocent of any crime.
However, instead of doing that, they picked up their fired brass, thereby destroying the crime scene, which is a crime in itself, and did other things to cover their actions. And by covering up the incident they showed by their actions that they believed they were in the wrong. An innocent man would have called the supervisor, reported the incident, written the memos, done the reports, and gone home for a good, stiff drink. Too bad, but their own actions convicted them.
In this latest incident, which a friend just sent me and asked about, there is obviously more than is being reported. Again, my sources tell me that the convicted agent lied about the incident to investigators. I do not know at this point what he was convicted of, but that alone would be sufficient for a prosecution. Since I know the presiding judge personally, I have faith that her decisions were just and true. Also, I do not think that certain high profile prosecutors are out to get law enforcement officers. I think they are prosecuting the cases they are given, to the best of their abilities. That is their job, even, or especially, if it happens to be an officer of the law.
The Border Patrol has been in the news a lot lately, sometimes for such as the above. While the crime for which the officer was convicted may seem trivial, or even just plain wrong, you need to understand that agents of the Border Patrol, and officers of other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, are held to a higher level of responsibility and veracity than Joe Average. That is necessary and I for one would not want it any other way. I had to go through these things more than once and was never treated wrongly or unfairly.
What is true is that the Border Patrol has lowered its standards in the last 20 years. That was mandatory and unavoidable, made that way by the orders from above to hire a large number of agents.
When I entered the Border Patrol in January of 1980 there were about 4000 agents nationwide; today there are close to 26,000. Each one of those agents applied, was tested both by written and oral exam, underwent an in-depth background investigation to determine if he was worthy of the position, and then had to pass the academy in which he was put through very strenuous and demanding (both mentally and physically) courses of study. After this he is sent to his first duty station on the southern border.
Even though the standards and courses of study have been lowered considerably and made easier since my time, they are by no means low or easy. I would guess that only the top 5 to 10 percent of those who apply ever actually make it to the academy. In my day the drop out and failure rate at the academy was close to 40 percent; today it is much less, mandated by the requirement to hire those 22,000 additional agents. Even now the attrition rate is such that it is necessary to hire an additional thousand agents (my estimate) each year just to keep the operational strength at 26,000.
Now consider this: Each year you hear about some 4 or 5 agents who are prosecuted for crimes such as those above. What that means is that most of the other 25, 995 agents are true and honest and out there protecting our borders to the best of their abilities, or at least to the best that they are allowed, because, they are bound not only by laws, but by operational instructions, case decisions, and other instructions and restrictions from higher authorities.
Each year there are literally dozens of armed encounters that you never hear about. Those are the ones where some lonely agent on the line somewhere does not do something flagrantly wrong and does not get prosecuted. Sometimes he is outnumbered or taken by surprise and loses his life. If there is such a thing as an honorable death, this is it. That Border Patrol agent gave his life trying to do his duty to you and his nation.
Much more often, however, when there are shots exchanged in dark and lonely places, it is the Border Patrol agent who comes out on top. The skill at arms of the Border Patrol has been legendary for decades.
I do disagree with some of the things that have happened to the Border Patrol. Although I understand the reasons, I strongly disagree with the lowering of hiring standards. It has put people in the field who are physically incapable of doing the job. That endangers those people, and the others who are forced to depend on them.
I disagree with the shortening and the restructuring of the Academy. It is putting agents into the field who are not sufficiently trained. This is especially true in the destruction of the Spanish part of the academy. The current curriculum is sadly lacking.
And I disagree with the removal of the post academy training and the testing that was integral with the first year of an agent’s career ever since the Academy was instituted. That one year probationary period and those post academy tests gave the Patrol a way to remove a problem agent for a full year after his entry on duty. A person may be able to hide his real nature for a few weeks (the old academy was between 17 and 19 weeks, depending on holidays) but that nature would usually show itself within that probationary year. Now that is not possible and many that would never have made it in the Old Patrol are now safe and sound after a shortened and in many ways ineffective academy.
The point in this is that you really can’t “have your cake and eat it too.” Either you maintain the highest standards and hire the very best men and women in the nation, but have a rather small, elite organization, or you lower your standards and hire more people and take the loss of integrity and ability that goes with that. Sadly, it is the politicians who make the final decisions. The Border Patrol continues to do the best it can with the tools it is given.
The official Border Patrol motto is Honor First. Many of us older guys, especially those of us who have been retired a few years, would tell you the unofficial motto is, “We have done so much, for so long, with so little, that we are now qualified to do anything, with nothing.”
If you want these things straightened out, force the politicians who don’t even know that the men and women of the Border Patrol are Border Patrol agents, not border guards, to strap on a .40 cal., shoulder an M4 and stand watch for a month on The Line in Laredo, or El Paso, or some other hot spot in Texas or southern Arizona where there is a gunfight once a month and a fistfight every night. Until those morons in their ivory towers find the intestinal fortitude to actually go see the problems and talk to the agents who are on The Line, nothing is going to get better.
I don’t know if this has explained anything or not, but t is the best I can do with the information, space, and time I have.
God bless the Border Patrol. It is still one of the most elite law enforcement organizations in the world.