Best listening experience is on Chrome, Firefox or Safari. Subscribe to Federal Drive’s daily audio interviews on Apple Podcasts or PodcastOne.
Customs and Border Protection’s internal affairs unit is looking to add hundreds of staff over the next year to help expand oversight and drive accountability at the country’s largest law enforcement agency.
CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility is planning to hire approximately 300 additional personnel at its investigative division through September 2023, according to Dan Altman, executive director of investigative operations at OPR. The office investigates allegations of corruption or misconduct by CBP employees.
“The highest priority going into this growth is going to be to develop very capable, best-in-class teams that are going to be able to respond to use-of-force and critical incidents, bringing that critical transparency and accountability that both Congress and the public expect,” Altman said in an interview. “We’re also going to considerably expand the number of personnel that we have assigned to working directly on corruption cases.”
Studies dating back to 2015 have found OPR, previously known as the Office of Internal Affairs, is undermanned, even as CBP’s frontline law enforcement numbers have swelled over the past two decades.
A 2016 report from the Homeland Security Advisory Council’s “CBP Integrity Advisory Panel” concluded the agency’s internal affairs office was “woefully understaffed,” with just 218 investigators compared to 44,000 law enforcement officers at the time.
The report recommended CBP employ at least 550 internal affairs investigators. The council based the recommendation on the ratio of internal affairs investigators to total law enforcement personnel at other organizations like the FBI, the New York Police Department, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and CBP’s own predecessor agency, the U.S. Customs Service.
But the recommendation is only now coming to fruition. The Biden administration’s fiscal 2022 budget request included $74 million to hire more than 300 special agents at OPR. Congress approved funding for the additional OPR positions as part of the omnibus appropriations agreement signed into law in March.
Altman said the planned hiring push will bring the investigative division from about 400 today to “almost” 700 personnel.
The growth will allow OPR to double the number of personnel it has assigned to the FBI-led border corruption task forces. Altman said it will also help expand programs focused on fraud and economic crimes.
OPR is also taking on responsibility for responding to critical incident scenes involving CBP personnel starting Oct. 1, after the agency disbanded its controversial Border Patrol Critical Incident Response Teams earlier this year.
The agency defines a critical incident as “any incident that involves CBP personnel that results in, or is intended or likely to result in, serious bodily injury or death; a use of force; or large media attention.”
Additionally, OPR will have a crucial role in reviewing body cam footage after CBP began outfitting officers and agents with body-worn cameras last August.
Altman said he hopes the increase in staff will allow his division to introduce more “specialization” in areas like use-of-force incidents or corruption.
“We’re hoping to bring on people some who may have experience working for CBP in various components, folks outside of CBP that may have experience conducting complex investigations involving corruption, fraud, civil rights violations, sexual assaults, and then also looking at bringing on analysts and other professional staff with specialized skills ranging from crime scene processing to forensic accounting to multimedia specialties,” Altman said.
The funding for staff increases expires at the end of fiscal 2023, giving OPR a little over a year to meet the ambitious hiring targets before it needs to seek an extension of the funding authority from Congress.
“This is a really tough time to be recruiting for law enforcement. There are lots of jobs out there,” Altman said. “I think our strategy overall is do everything we can to educate applicants about the really unique aspects of working for CBP. And we’ve got a very diverse and dynamic mission set in some really interesting areas in which we have potential opportunities for employment.”