ICE to begin rolling out body cameras to agents & officers

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Friday it will begin outfitting agents with body-worn cameras, part of a wider shift toward cameras and transparency among component agencies under the Department of Homeland Security.

Officials said an updated policy calls for body-worn cameras “in all aspects of ICE enforcement activities conducted by ICE personnel,” but carved out “certain investigative activities.”

However, they said the cameras will not be given to all agents because the agency “currently does not have the resources to issues cameras to all ICE law enforcement personnel.”

“ICE is working to secure resources required to ensure full implementation of the new policy,” agency officials said.

Roughly the size of a deck of playing cards, body-worn cameras are attached to the front of law enforcement officers’ uniforms or armored vests and present a view of their actions that’s recorded and archived. While studies have shown the cameras cut complaints and mitigate the use of force, limitations in the technology as well as big differences in how agencies retain footage and release it to the public have limited their promise. 

ICE’s announcement comes years after U.S. Customs and Border Protection—Border Patrol’s parent agency—said it was deploying the cameras along the border.

ICE includes two separate sub-agencies. Enforcement and Removal Operations is responsible for enforcing U.S. immigration law and tasked with handling deportations, as well as management of dozens of detention centers spread across the U.S.—including four in Arizona. Homeland Security Investigations has more than 8,700 employees—including 6,000 special agents spread across 237 field offices—and considers itself “the principle investigative arm” of the Department of Homeland Security.

ICE said agents will begin wearing body-worn cameras during most
enforcement actions, including at-large arrests, as well as
administrative and criminal arrests. ICE agents are also directed to use
body-worn cameras while issuing subpoenas and executing search
warrants, and when agents respond to emergencies. The agency said
body-worn cameras “will not be used for the sole purpose of recording
individuals engaged in First Amendment activity.”

ICE said it
will begin giving out cameras to officers with ERO officers and HSI
agents in “select locations” over the next year. “Once personnel are
issued (body-worn cameras), they will be subject to the policy,” ICE
said. Officials did not lay out where the cameras would deployed, or how
many agents or officers would have cameras in the next several months.

“Our ability to uphold our global mission rests heavily on public trust,
which is built through accountability, effectiveness, and transparency
in our law enforcement tactics,” said Patrick J. Lechleitner, the deputy director and senior official performing the duties of the director. “Today’s announcement is designed to advance these core values.
Requiring the use of body-worn cameras by our law enforcement personnel
is important to bringing our workforce to the forefront of innovation,
while building trust and confidence in our dedicated law enforcement

Lechleitner serves as a senior official because ICE hasn’t had a confirmed director since 2013, when John Sandweg was approved by the Senate during Obama administration. During the Trump administration, the agency churned through more than a half-dozen leaders as the ex-president promoted and fired multiple leaders throughout DHS as he fitfully tried to control the border. Under President Joe Biden, Tae Johnson served as acting director from January 2021 until last July when the Government Accountability Office said his continued tenure violated federal law under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act. While Biden nominated Ed Gonzalez, a Texas sheriff, to lead the 20,000-strong agency in early 2021, the Senate refused to vote on his approval; a year later, Gonzales withdrew his nomination.

Under Biden, federal agencies have expanded the use of body-worn cameras

Nearly three years ago, U.S. Customs and Border Protection began deploying body-worn cameras to its own officials.

While an Obama-era task force said police agencies should use the cameras to curb use-of-force complaints, federal agencies like CBP held back on purchasing body-worn cameras for years. In 2014, CBP conducted a feasibility study, followed by a six-month evaluation in 2018. However, the agency waited nearly two more years before signing a $13 million contract with Axon Enterprises, a Scottsdale-based company, to provide cameras to 4,000 Border Patrol agents. Months later, CBP announced it would deploy 6,000 cameras by the end of 2021.

Since that deployment, CBP has released footage from cameras just a few times, including footage from a fatal incident last May when multiple Border Patrol agents shot and killed 58-year-old Raymond Mattia during an incident near the village of Menager’s Dam on the Tohono O’odham Nation.

ICE said began a pilot program in Dec. 2021 when ICE officers “tested the use of body worn cameras for pre-planned law enforcement operations.”

In May 2022, Biden ordered federal law enforcement agencies to update
their polices to match those under the Justice Department, including
considering how the cameras would work with facial-recognition software. A year later, Homeland Security officials released a wider-policy around the cameras, requiring agencies like ICE, CBP, and the U.S. Secret Service to draft or update their own policies on the cameras.