When Vice President Mike Pence told those in attendance at the Department of Homeland Security’s 15th anniversary celebration that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection needs more money because “attacks on our Border Patrol agents had increased by 73 percent”, he either did not know or neglected to add that those numbers are being padded.
An investigative report by The Intercept reveals that starting in 2015, CPB changed up the way they count assaults against Border Patrol agents, and it has created the false impression that the number of such incidents has soared.
According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data, assaults on Border Patrol officers increased dramatically in fiscal year 2016, reversing a long downward trend. That year, CBP claims, there were 454 assaults on agents nationwide, compared with 378 in fiscal year 2015, a 20 percent increase. The increase from 2016 to 2017 was even more surprising. In 2017, according to CBP, there were 786 assaults, a spike of 73 percent, even as apprehensions fell from 415,816 to 310,532.
Almost the entire increase — 271 purported assaults — was said to have occurred in one sector, the Rio Grande Valley, in South Texas. A large number of the assaults supposedly occurred on a single day, according to charts and details provided by Christiana Coleman, a CBP public affairs spokesperson. In response to questions from The Intercept, Coleman explained in an email that “an incident in the Rio Grande Valley Sector on February 14, 2017, involved seven U.S. Border Patrol Agents assaulted by six subjects utilizing three different types of projectiles (rocks, bottles, and tree branches), totaling 126 assaults.”
Not only is this method of counting assaults grossly inaccurate, but according to the FBI, the majority of assaults -- which include the mere brandishing of a weapon -- do not result in injury to the agent.
Data from the Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted (LEOKA) reports, maintained by the FBI, includes assaults against border patrol agents and shows the CPB’s counting to be inflated.
A review of the LEOKA data shows that for years, the number of assaults on Border Patrol agents reported to the FBI exactly matched the figure published by CBP. In 2012, for instance, CBP reported 555 assaults on Border Patrol agents, and the FBI’s LEOKA website listed 555 as well. The next year, 2013, both agencies again used the same figure: 468. In 2014, the numbers were also identical: 373. When the Border Patrol published the number of assaults during those years, it meant “officers assaulted.”
The new method, which began with fiscal year 2015, was not disclosed to the public or explained by those who used its numbers to justify increased funding and presence for the border.
In late November 2016, then-Border Patrol Chief Mark Morgan led the charge, telling a Senate committee that assaults on agents working near the Mexico border had seen a 200 percent increase from a year earlier. In subsequent months, Border Patrol Deputy Chief Carla Provost made additional dire claims about assaults on agents.
[W]hat emerges from the FBI’s data is that the Border Patrol’s job has never been safer. The decrease was so significant that by 2016, according to FBI statistics, Border Patrol agents were about five times less likely to be assaulted than officers in local police departments — and only half as likely to be killed on the job by homicide or by accident. As the Cato Institute observed in November, “Regular Americans are more than twice as likely to be murdered in any year from 2003 through 2017 than Border Patrol agents were.” But even as Border Patrol work was getting safer, the agency began manipulating its data to claim increasing danger and advance a political agenda.