Tuesday, January 22, 2013



Note: As always, the culture of corruption starts at the top.

CBP border employees face increasing pressures to break law, GAO
report says
Posted: Monday, January 21, 2013 6:00 am
Jacqueline Armendariz | Twitter: @jarmendariz
Posted on January 21, 2013
by Jacqueline Armendariz

A recent federal report puts numbers to the often pervasive suspicion
among some South Texans that some Rio Grande Valley law enforcement
officers engage in corruption and misconduct.
Well beyond his duty to protect the public was Jose Elizondo, a U.S.
Customs and Border Protection officer who was off-duty when he shot
and killed Alton nightclub owner Fermin Limon with his government-
issued weapon in 2010. Elizondo was later found guilty of murder.
A case like Elizondo's is likely rare when the majority of U.S.
Customs and Border Protection employees follow the agency's integrity
standards, according to a report released this month by the U.S.
Government Accountability Office, or GAO.
In fact, arrests for misconduct, such as domestic violence and
driving under the influence, outweigh corruption arrests among CBP
However, the GAO found that the majority of CBP officers and agents
arrested on corruption charges, 65 percent, are primarily based on
the border. The majority of them also wind up being convicted.
CBP officers and Border Patrol agents are targets of "increasing
pressure" from the drug traffickers and transnational crime
organizations that try to bribe them, according to the report.
Of note: The number of CBP employees arrested from 2005 to 2012
accounts for less than 1 percent of the agency's workforce.
In all, 144 employees were arrested or indicted on corruption charges
in the past seven years. Of those, 125 — or nearly 87 percent — were
The GAO issued recommendations in its report to bolster CBP's efforts
to mitigate corruption and misconduct among its ranks.
The GAO found CBP lacks an integrity strategy and has failed to
consistently conduct the required monthly quality assurance reviews
of the results of pre-employment and periodic background checks.
Additionally, CBP also doesn't have a process to document
deficiencies in its quality assurance reviews and hasn't completed
some post-corruption analysis reports on cases involving convicted
employees since 2004.
In response, the Department of Homeland Security said it would work
to implement the changes by this summer.
"CBP agrees with the seven recommendations the GAO report on CBP's
workforce integrity has identified and will implement appropriate
measures to address all of them," according to a DHS statement issued
in response to questions from The Monitor.
This month, local fallout from a recent corruption scandal continued
with the indictment of Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Treviño's son,
Jonathan Treviño, and Alexis Espinoza, son of Hidalgo police Chief
Rudy Espinoza. The charges were also lodged against two deputies.
The accused officers were employed at the city and county level and,
in fact, thwarted by federal agents, but the impact in the court of
public opinion was widespread.
Kevin Buckler, chair of the University of Texas-Brownsville's
criminal justice department, said a number of studies on policing
show that generally 10 percent of employees hired create 90 percent
of the problems for an agency.
Yet, the effect of corruption cases on public opinion is often
pronounced and not focused on learning from the cases themselves.
"The public sees things in the media and their distrust in police,
Border Patrol is over-generalized," he said. "That's one potential
damaging implication of this."
Buckler said the report seems to indicate CBP is working up toward a
system that could note early warning signs of corruption or
misconduct among officers, but the nature of working the vast area of
the border complicates developing such a system.
Still, he said, it's surprising it's taken several years now for CBP
to begin the process and it is likely in response to recent public
outcries over fatal shootings involving the agency.

At least 5,500 officers and 18,000 agents were stationed on the
border as of September 2011 under CBP, which is the largest uniformed
law enforcement agency in the country.
While only 57 percent of CBP officers and agents work along the
border, the GAO found that 68 percent of allegations made were
against them.
Meanwhile, more allegations were made against Border Patrol agents
than CBP officers.
The GAO found among corruption cases the majority of the offenses
were the most severe in nature — such as drug or alien smuggling,
bribery and helping to transport illegal cargo — and "mission
Of those arrested in misconduct cases, the majority of the crimes
were not related to CBP operations.
In its report, the GAO said a CBP internal affairs official said it
was possible the border accounted for more allegations because, in
part, many employees stationed in the region were new and less
Buckler said he takes issues with that assessment.
In general, less experienced employees are more likely to follow
regulations. It's the more experienced personnel that begin to relax,
he said.
The GAO report noted that Border Patrol found a startling 75 percent
of employees arrested for alleged corruption were assigned near their
hometowns. In response, the agency now prohibits trainees being
initially assigned within 100 miles of home.
Border Patrol said agents are more likely to face pressure from
friends and family to engage in illegal activities when stationed
Buckler said a foundation of the community policing concept counts on
officers feeling like they're "protecting their backyard," but CBP
has made the opposite argument on the border.

DHS said it would consider expanding its polygraph program to current
employees, as opposed to just applicants as required by law, along
with other changes. The agency did, however, cite costs as a concern
in doing so.
Buckler said a polygraph program could be problematic for a number of
reasons and CBP's lawyers will likely try to steer the agency away
from implementing it.
"It's going to be interesting to see where they go with that," he said.
DHS sent a statement in response to several questions from The
Monitor, including whether CBP employees are able to report pressure
to participate in illegal activity without fear of losing their job.
"The vast majority of the CBP workforce serves with honor and
integrity, adhering to the high standards demanded of CBP personnel,"
the statement said. "Our high standards are reflected in the quality
of the people we hire, as well as in how we train and evaluate our
employees. Our commitment begins at the time of application for
employment with CBP and continues throughout the careers of our
officers, agents, and mission support personnel."
However, the report said within some sections of CBP there is
"significant cultural resistance" in acknowledging internal affairs
authority over "all integrity-related activities."
CBP also had a backlog of reinvestigations in 2010, since mostly
cleared. DHS said during a hiring surge from 2006 to 2008 CBP
internal affairs wasn't given additional resources to keep up.
Buckler said the more hiring that's done, the deeper into the
applicant pool the agency must go, potentially relaxing certain
criteria because of the emphasis placed on filling posts.
"The quality of the people that you're putting out is not as good
when you go through periods of hiring more and more officers," he said.
CBP internal affairs is also studying common traits found in
background investigations of employees involved in corruption and the
effect of an employee being stationed for duty in their hometown.
The GAO said CBP's controls include random periodic drug tests and
reinvestigations as well as electronic alerts that flags supervisors
at ports and limited use of personal electronics on duty.
Buckler noted these controls focus on eliminating or reducing the
opportunity to be part of corruption.
"If you feel as if Big Brother is watching you, you're not going to
go through with things even if enters your mind," he said.
Unscheduled lane rotations are also prohibited and advance details on
work locations are withheld to prevent the coordination of smuggling
"CBP officials have stated that they are concerned about the negative
impact that these cases have on agencywide integrity," the report
said of instances of corruption.
Jacqueline Armendariz covers law enforcement, courts and general
assignments for The Monitor. She can be reached at
jarmendariz@themonitor.com and (956) 683-4434.

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