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U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s New Fuzzy Math Clearly Results in Inflated Assault Figures

by Christopher Zoukis

On February 14, 2017, seven U.S. Border Patrol Agents were involved in an altercation with six subjects and three projectiles (rocks, bottles, and tree branches). How many assaults occurred?

According to traditional law enforcement accounting methods, seven, even assuming that none of the agents were hit with anything or injured. According to the fancy new method used by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (“CBP”), there were 126 assaults as a result of the February incident. Seven agents times six perpetrators times three weapons.

It seems that Mark Twain may have been on to something when he popularized the saying that there are three kinds of lies: “lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

According to a new report from The Intercept, CBP has used this suspicious new accounting method as the basis for reports that assaults on Border Patrol agents skyrocketed in 2016. That narrative has been breathlessly repeated in the right-wing media as evidence that illegal immigrants are storming the border. And in November 2016, then-Border Patrol Chief Mark Morgan used the fudged numbers in a Senate committee hearing, telling senators that assaults on agents working near the Mexico border jumped 200 percent from 2015 to 2016. That just happened to be the year that CBP changed its accounting method.

James Tomsheck, former director of internal affairs at CBP, called the method “unusual.” He told The Intercept that law enforcement agencies, including CBP when he worked there, count the number of people assaulted in any given incident.

“Five rocks [thrown at] an agent would have been considered one assault,” Tomsheck said.

That’s the same method that the FBI uses in calculating figures for the Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted (“LEOKA”) database. In fact, until 2015, the LEOKA numbers matched CBP’s assault numbers exactly. Now, the LEOKA numbers show the continuation of a long decline in such assaults, while the CBP data show a spike in assaults.

CBP’s data are not an accurate assessment of the danger faced by Border Patrol agents. In 2016, FBI statistics showed that Border Patrol agents were about five times less likely to be assaulted than local cops. And in November 2017, the Cato Institute reported that “[r]egular Americans are more than twice as likely to be murdered in any year from 2003 through 2017 than Border Patrol agents were.”

CBP spokesperson Carlos Diaz defended the agency’s new accounting methods, telling The Intercept that “it is the most transparent method of reporting.” But University of California criminologist Franklin Zimring, author of When Police Kill, found the concept laughable — literally. When asked by an Intercept reporter whether he had ever heard of a method such as that now being used by CBP, he burst out laughing and said, “No. I haven’t.”

The CBP’s bogus statistics are no laughing matter, however. The White House has already spread the false narrative of a lawless border far and wide. Indeed, The Intercept reported Vice President Mike Pence as saying that “one of the most shocking stories we heard was in the last fiscal year,” when “attacks on our Border Patrol agents had increased by 73 percent.” So, concluded Pence, the Trump Administration needs $18 billion for a border wall.

Fake news. But real consequences. 



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