By CHELCEY ADAMI
3:12 AM PST, December 4, 2011
CALEXICO — Some believe that unpleasant border-crossing experiences boil down to officer training.
National Treasury Employees Union Chapter 123 President Joe Bustamante said lack of adequate training adds stress to officers and results in that perception. The union represents CBP officers.
“There’s a lot of new guys, young guys. We take people’s lives into our hands on a daily basis,” he said. “The budget being what it is allows for hardly any training as far as the public is concerned.”
Between fiscal 2004 and 2010, “CBP experienced a growth that was unprecedented in the history of U.S. law enforcement,” CBP Commissioner Alan Bersin said before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs earlier this year.
“On the whole, CBP found that its work force was younger, less experienced, and in need of seasoned supervisors.”
Officers handle individual inspections on average in less than a minute, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
“The people working the floor right now are under a lot of pressure to expedite traffic and at the same time make sure there’s no contraband coming across,” Bustamante explained. “So these poor guys, we have 320 new employees, and they are between the ages of 21 and 28, never held a position in their life as far as this is concerned. The pressure is tremendous.”
Continued training is necessary to understand how to properly handle the large daily flow of people coming across the border, he said.
“We’re trained not to violate people’s civil rights,” Bustamante said. “It’s (training) got to be constant and … if not, you have rogue officers doing their own thing.”
CBP officers are not allowed to comment to the press, according to CBP officials.
However, others disagree that a lack of training has affected what amounts to customer service.
Calexico Port Director Billy Whitford said during the past couple of years, basic academy training has expanded to 15 weeks after a screening process is completed. After returning from the academy, officers must also complete 37 weeks of post-academy training.
“From my perspective, we have not seen funding cuts within recent years that have affected our ability to accomplish the mission or ensure that officers are properly trained to do their jobs,” Whitford added.
Staff Writer Chelcey Adami can be reached at 760-337-3452 or firstname.lastname@example.org