U.S. Border Patrol, under fire for use of force, to trial body cameras

By Eric M. Johnson (Reuters) - The U.S. Border Patrol said body cameras would be trialled for its agents from next month following allegations over abuse and use of excessive force, as Washington gave the agency authority to investigate staff for criminal misconduct. A review will examine the legal and policy implications of using the cameras at ports of entry to the United States, along its borders, and from the air and sea, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) spokesman said. U.S. police departments, facing similar criticism over harsh tactics and uses of deadly force, have also turned to testing body cameras - which can be attached to shirts or glasses - and dashboard-mounted ones for their officers. Police in Ferguson, Missouri began wearing body cameras after weeks of public outrage over the Aug. 9 shooting to death of an unarmed black teen by a white officer, witness accounts of which differed sharply. Border Protection agents, meanwhile, are facing accusations made in June by immigration activists that more than 100 migrant children suffered sexual assault and beatings and were denied adequate medical care, food and water. The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a lawsuit in July on behalf of a mother of a Mexican teenager fatally shot by border police, welcomed the news, but noted that CBP officers had killed at least 29 people as a result of use-of-force incidents since 2010. "The agency has lacked a reasonable, transparent process for reviewing agent-caused deaths and holding agents accountable," the statement said. Supporters of body cameras say they provide a more objective record of a police encounter than often contradictory accounts. Opponents argue the devices impinge on thorny privacy and legal issues - such at when they should be recording - and should not be used to prosecute police officers. It was unclear when the CBP would reach a decision on whether to deploy the cameras. Also on Thursday, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson gave CBP the authority to investigate employees for alleged criminal misconduct, and said the agency would implement a new formal review process for use of force incidents. "This announcement is part of a larger effort to hold the workforce accountable," CBP Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske, a former Seattle police chief, said in a statement. (Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Curtis Skinner and John Stonestreet)