Reno Backed, Rebuked in Citing Inexperience!

Reno Backed, Rebuked in Citing Inexperience!
Posted by FoM on March 13, 1999 at 16:59:43 PT

Tuscon, Ariz. Attorney General Janet Reno is right -- and wrong -- in endorsing a hiring hiatus for new Border Patrol agents because so many now are inexperienced, current and former agents said this week. 
Reno testified before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee earlier this week, and was back on Capitol Hill on Friday. ``It has been a problem, but it's been a problem ever since the hiring push started, and this year it's probably been less of a problem than in previous years,'' said T.J. Bonner, an agent in Campo, Calif., and national president of the agents' union, the National Border Patrol Council. ``Where we are falling down is after we get them out of the basic training academy, we don't have a good field training program,'' he said. One solution to the high ratio ``is to allow people to get longer in the tooth,'' Bonner said. ``But in the meantime, attrition continues at an inordinately unacceptable rate.'' About 1,000 agents retire or take other jobs each year. More help is needed, Bonner said, ``and the longer we wait for that, the longer we delay the inevitable, which is that we're going to have a fairly high number of inexperienced people.'' Reno said 39 percent of the patrol's nearly 9,000 agents have less than two years' experience, and that hiring more new agents now might jeopardize its performance, integrity and professionalism. The patrol has more than doubled in the last five years to combat mushrooming illegal immigration. Law enforcement experts believe a ratio above 30 percent new-to-old imperils performance, the attorney general said. ``I think she's absolutely correct on this,'' said Jesus Romo-Vejar, a Tucson lawyer who frequently has accused the Border Patrol of civil rights abuses. He cited language in a federal judge's ruling in December that ``the INS and the Border Patrol have failed to adequately train their personnel in the past.'' The judge noted congressional testimony of Doris Meissner, commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which oversees the patrol, admitting inadequacies in supervisory training. Another union official, Tucson sector agent Charles Newcomer, told the Tucson Citizen that Reno may have been right. The quality of field work has declined, with insufficient veteran agents to adequately train all the new recruits on-the-job, especially in tracking undocumented immigrants, he said. Greg Gagne, an INS senior spokesman, said an ethics- and decision-making traveling training program began last year to address pressures on agents -- particularly where the threat of corruption is greatest -- among those with five to 10 years' experience. A course on corruption and ethics is planned for senior field managers, he added. Tucson criminal attorney Michael Piccarreta, who has represented some former Border Patrol agents, said, ``It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that the more inexperienced agents you place on the border, the higher percentage that there could be mishaps.'' INS statistics concerning discipline of agents do not reflect agent experience. In 1998, 205 agents were disciplined for at least one substantiated allegation of improper activity. Forty-four were suspended, 74 reprimanded, seven fired and nine counseled for such offenses as misuse of government property, insubordination and inappropriate handling of a suspect, Gagne said. There were no criminal convictions. But the year before, a San Diego-based agent who joined the patrol in 1996 was caught by other agents with 500 pounds of marijuana in a desert area, prosecuted and convicted on drug charges. He is serving a five-year sentence. Rep. Sylvester Reyes, D-Texas, a former Border Patrol official, told the House last month the percentage of inexperienced agents was higher than in the past but ``well within acceptable standards.'' Only 14 percent of agents in the El Paso and San Diego sectors had less than two years' experience, and 20 percent in Tucson, he said. Meanwhile, Texas patrol chiefs told his staff ``they desperately need more agents.'' ``Those figures speak for themselves,'' said Ronald Sanders, Tucson sector chief and president of the Border Patrol's Chief Patrol Agents' Association.
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