Border officers are arrested 5 times more often than other US law enforcement

Tables turned.
Tables turned.
Image: REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
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Border Patrol agents and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers have been arrested 176 times since October for a range of criminal offenses, according to internal agency documents reviewed by Quartz.

That rate of arrest far exceeds that of other American law enforcement groups. Arrests of state and local police, for example, occur at an average rate of about 0.1% of the force per year, according to the Henry A. Wallace Police Crime Database.

If arrests at CBP continue at their current pace, Border Patrol agents will have been arrested at a rate of more than 0.5% of the overall force for fiscal year 2019. That is more than 5 times higher than the rate of arrests of state and local police.

CBP officers and Border Patrol agents have been under increased scrutiny for their treatment and handling of migrants crossing the US southern border. A recent ProPublica investigation uncovered a Facebook group where thousands of Border Patrol agents openly malign migrants.

The Trump administration policy of detaining all migrants crossing the border has created dangerously overcrowded detention centers, where migrants must wait indefinitely for their cases to be processed by a severely overworked court system. CBP and Border Patrol employees are often the first to interact with these migrants, many of who are seeking asylum from violence in their home countries.

US president Donald Trump regularly and erroneously cites criminal behavior among migrants as a reason for his so-called zero-tolerance crackdown. In reality, undocumented immigrants commit less crime than native-born citizens.

The offenses for which CBP officers and Border Patrol agents have been arrested include alleged crimes against children, domestic violence, and sexual assault. The arrests are charted in a confidential quarterly report by CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility.

Drug and alcohol-related offenses were the reason behind the majority of the arrests of Border Patrol agents, with 42 since October. 

Several of these Border Patrol arrests have made the news. In May, a Border Patrol agent based in Arizona was charged with raping three women over seven years. The same month, another Border Patrol agent in Texas was arrested for assaulting a woman related to him.

Here’s the full breakdown of Border Patrol arrests, according to the documents:

The documents seen by Quartz did not include a breakdown of the specific charges behind the arrests of CBP officers. In one high-profile case, however, a supervising CBP officer was arrested in Los Angeles on federal weapons charges for dealing guns. And a CBP officer at JFK International Airport in New York was arrested in April for stealing cash out of handbags.

Christopher Herrmann, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former New York Police Department crime analyst supervisor, said official arrest numbers like these are likely lower than the number of actual cases that occur. 

That’s because law enforcement officers tend to be lenient on other law enforcement officers, Herrmann told Quartz. “Obviously if it’s a major crime, those aren’t things you can sweep under the rug. But even lower felony stuff might get overlooked,” he said. An officer might give a fellow officer a ride home rather than an arrest for drunk driving, for example. “There’s so much passing over of bad things when cops do it.”