The Media Gets It Wrong — Again

By Michael C. Nicley on March 12, 2014

The national U.S. Border Patrol Chief, Michael J. Fisher, issued a memorandum last week outlining guiding principles on the use of force to all field personnel. The national media descended into a feeding frenzy. A sampling of the "informative" headlines follows:

"Border Patrol Restricts Shooting At Rock Throwers" – "Border Patrol Reverses Course On Guidelines Regarding Use Of Force" – "Border Agents Told To Avoid Lethal Force" – "Border Patrol Issues New Rules On Shooting" – "Chief Admonishes Border Patrol On Use Of Force" – "U.S. Border Patrols Ordered To Limit Shootings" – "Border Patrol Told To Stop Shooting At Vehicles, Rock Throwers" – "Border Patrol To Limit Use Of Deadly Force Against Rock Throwers".

If any of these headlines were true, I would be one of the first to publicly demand Chief Fisher's resignation or removal. Any policy or operational directive that would increase the significant dangers already faced by Border Patrol agents would be indefensible. Not surprisingly, none of the headlines described Chief Fisher's directives accurately.

In his instructions to the field, Chief Fisher reinforced the notion that agents should seek a tactical advantage in each situation and avoid taking actions that might place themselves or others at unnecessary risk. The chief reiterated the long-standing policy that deadly force may only be used in situations where an agent has a reasonable belief, based on the totality of the circumstances, that the subject of such force poses an imminent danger of death or serious physical injury to the agent or another person.

After several reads of Chief Fisher's memorandum, I was unable to identify a single segment that instructed agents to hesitate when lives were in jeopardy. There is nothing in the memorandum that directs or encourages agents to assume unreasonable risk before using appropriate force. The historical limitations on the use of deadly force have not been expanded and I read nothing in Chief Fisher's directives that increase the risk of injury or death to Border Patrol Agents, illegal border crossers, or the public at large. Chief Fisher's memorandum seems to no longer be on the CBP web site, but a copy has been preserved here.