Border Patrol pursues body-worn cameras for officers

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The new head of Customs and Border Protection said Wednesday he believes in the merits of body-worn video cameras for Border Patrol officers, but technology and privacy challenges have stood in the way of implementation.

Gil Kerlikowske, who became CBP commissioner in March, told the House Appropriations homeland security subcommittee that when he was Seattle's police chief, his department put video cameras in every officer's car.

"We found that with the video cameras in particular, and the audio, it worked far more to the officer's advantage when there were complaints that came forward," he said at the hearing.

The American Civil Liberties Union has been pushing for body-worn cameras since last year. Kerlikowske said the Border Patrol is exploring possible devices, but hurdles remain.

The devices themselves must be able to function in all types of weather conditions, including winter in North Dakota and summer in the Arizona desert, and CBP has to store all the data they generate. Additionally, body-worn cameras bring privacy concerns.

"Is the camera on when the [officer] is talking to a person who's the victim of domestic violence or sexual assault?" Kerlikowske said.

Kerlikowske discussed a range of topics in his first appearance before the subcommittee as CBP commissioner, including the significant task ahead of his agency as it works to hire thousands of additional customs officers.

The agency's fiscal 2014 budget includes funding to hire 2,000 additional officers, in order to expedite trade by reducing congestion at ports of entry. CBP plans to have recruited, vetted, hired and trained all 2,000 by the end of fiscal 2015.

"It's a huge mistake if you hire too many people too quickly without doing the proper steps," Kerlikowske said.

In its fiscal 2015 budget request, CBP proposed hiring another round of 2,000 officers, which it wants to fund by charging higher fees.

For more:
- go to the hearing webpage (prepared testimony and webcast available)

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