December 15, 2021
(WASHINGTON) – Today, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, released the below statement on a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report he requested on the use of less-lethal force by several Departments, including the Department of Homeland Security, during the 2020 civil demonstrations in Washington D.C. and Portland, Oregon. In the report, entitled “Law Enforcement: Federal Agencies Should Improve Reporting and Review of Less-Lethal Force,” GAO reviewed agencies’ less-lethal force policies, whether incidents were adequately reported, and how agencies reviewed incident reports.
In examining DHS specifically, GAO reviewed the Department-wide use of force policy as well as the policies of four components involved in the D.C. and Portland protests: U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Secret Service (USSS), and the Federal Protective Service (FPS). Overall, GAO found that DHS did not have a policy which required comprehensive reporting of less-lethal force incidents across components. This significantly impairs its ability to oversee these incidents and incorporate lessons learned into meaningful policy changes.
The GAO also found:
- While DHS’s general use of force policy states that officers must seek to minimize unintended injuries, DHS’s components interpret this differently.
- DHS’s department-wide use of force policy calls for reporting and tracking of use of force incidents but does not include reporting standards, resulting in some components not tracking basic and necessary information.
- FPS had 5 use of force incidents in D.C. and 82 in Portland, USSS had 50 incidents in D.C., and CBP had 544 incidents in Portland. Reporting data from ICE was indeterminate.
- The method of review for use of force incident reports also varied widely across components. CBP and FPS both have systems to ensure incident reports are properly reviewed and follow DHS policy, but USSS and ICE do not.
- DHS has not yet established, as required, an oversight body at headquarters responsible for monitoring component use of force reporting.
- DHS components have, however, begun implementing lessons learned from 2020 and most have started to update their use of force policies and training procedures.
GAO made five recommendations directed at DHS, including for it to develop better standards for components on how to report less-lethal force incidents, to establish a Headquarters level oversight body to monitor use of force reporting at components, and for ICE and USSS to better document determinations that use of force incidents were in accordance with agency policy.
“It is unfortunate, but not surprising, that DHS’s use of force policy during the Trump Administration led to the policy being enforced inconsistently across its diverse components – and, because of inadequate reporting, we may never have a true accounting of use of force incidents during the 2020 protests in D.C. and Portland. However, I am pleased that the Biden Administration has already made concerted efforts to correct this wrong, especially with the creation of its new Law Enforcement Coordination Council this year. I encourage DHS to quickly implement GAO’s recommendations and looking forward to working with it and its components to ensure use of force policies are consistent and followed, and incidents are properly reviewed and reported.”
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Media contact: Adam Comis at (202) 225-9978
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