As the Border Patrol gears up to add 5,000 new agents in response to an executive order by President Trump, the agency is revamping its training, the New York Times reports. The new curriculum emphasizes teaching new agents how to operate safely in dangerous environments near security fencing on the border and to communicate effectively in Spanish. Perhaps more important, academy leaders say, it trains agents to defuse tense situations involving people they encounter on patrol. During the last hiring surge from 2006 to 2009, as Border Patrol ranks jumped from 12,000 to more than 20,000, essential training standards — including crucial Spanish language skills and physical training — were scaled back. The length of training. 117 days, was truncated to 66 days to move new agents into the field faster.
The need to meet tight deadlines for hiring and deploying new agents on the border came with a price: spikes in corruption, the hiring of people with ties to drug cartels, and an increase in the use of force, including cross-border shootings. The Border Patrol has been plagued by criticism from human rights activists who have claimed abuses of people who illegally crossed the border. Dan Harris was chosen to lead the Border Patrol Academy last year by R. Gil Kerlikowske, then commissioner of Customs and Border Protection. Kerlikowske was credited with instituting reforms, including more transparency about shooting cases involving agents. Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum, which produced a 2013 report about cases where agents’ force had resulted in deaths, called the new training a turning point. “It’s a sign of the times that the Border Patrol, which hasn’t always had a good track record in its use of force, wants to find ways to help agents defuse what could be volatile situations,” he said.