The Department of Homeland Security has outfitted a first group of Border Patrol agents with body cameras as part of a push to get 6,000 cameras into the field by the end of this year, the department announced Wednesday.
Customs and Border Protection, the agency that oversees the Border Patrol, said the body-worn cameras will help settle use of force complaints and investigate allegations of misconduct.
After an initial group of agents get cameras, CBP officers, who man the border crossings and airports, will be next in line.
“Providing them with state-of-the-art technology and tools like body-worn cameras will support their work and provide greater transparency into interactions between CBP officers and agents and the public,” said Troy Miller, acting commissioner at CBP.
The cameras are continuously running but the wearer must activate it to have footage stored. Once a camera is activated, the previous two minutes can be stored, too.
Immigrant-rights activists have clamored for cameras, saying Border Patrol agents in particular need more oversight, particularly in interactions that occur in remote parts of the border region.
One case that made it to the Supreme Court involved an agent shooting a Mexican boy, with questions about what provocations there were and whether the boy had been on U.S. soil before or at the time of the shooting.
Dust-ups between agents and illegal border crossers who agents say resisted arrest are also common, and the cameras could bring more clarity to those incidents.
But some agents have said cameras, which are a popular solution for embattled police departments, don’t translate as well to the rough operations along the border.
The Obama administration had studied use of body cameras but put off adoption, saying more study was needed. A contract was then signed during the Trump administration last year and deployment had been slated for this spring. CBP didn’t say why that deadline was pushed back to the summer.
The cameras CBP is deploying are “roughly the size of a deck of playing cards,” the agency said. They will face forward.
CBP said the technology has been tested and will work even for agents’ “complex missions.”
The agency didn’t say what specifically would prompt an agent to activate a camera, but said protocols have been drafted “with safety of personnel and the public as the foremost considerations.”