Border Patrol pledges quicker disclosure of use-of-force incidents

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske. Photo by Associated Press.

The largest law enforcement agency in the country has made progress in sharing information after use-of-force incidents but there’s still work to be done, the head of Customs and Border Protection said.

“We are doing better but I wouldn’t say that given the vast geography and size of the organization that it’s all running as smoothly as I would like to see it,” R. Gil Kerlikowske told the Arizona Daily Star a day before the agency held a news conference to discuss its latest shooting incident in Southern Arizona involving a Border Patrol agent.

Since Kerlikowske was appointed to head the agency, which oversees the Border Patrol, he has pushed for greater transparency and accountability by releasing its use-of-force policy. More recently it also publicly disclosed the number of use-of-force incidents, which it said it will start to update monthly broken down by sector, agency branch and other measures.

After a use-of-force incident, a high level CBP official is now supposed to make a statement to the public and release as much information as possible, even when the investigation is ongoing, he said, and cited recent examples where that has been done.

During a Q&A with the Star, Kerlikowske — who has 40 years of law enforcement experience, including nine as chief of police in Seattle — talked about his push for accountability and current hiring challenges.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

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Use of force by Tucson sector border agents among highest in Southwest

Border Patrol agents have shot their guns five times this fiscal year, including two incidents in the agency’s Tucson Sector, newly released data show.

Customs and Border Protection released sector-specific use-of-force statistics Thursday, six months after reporting national numbers without sector-specific information. The largest law enforcement agency in the country will now update the number of incidents on a monthly basis, broken down by sector and by branch.

CBP also said Thursday it is seeking industry input on body and vehicle-mounted cameras. The fiscal year 2017 budget calls for $5 million to be spent on, among other things, the camera system and development of the agency’s policy for their use.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Specter of cartel-made opioid rears head in Arizona

Reuven Shorr with a photo of himself and his younger brother Ezra as kids in Tucson. Ezra died of a mixed-drug overdose, which included fentanyl, in November 2014. Photo by Ron Medvescek/Arizona Daily Star.

A strong synthetic opioid made by the Sinaloa cartel is increasingly making its way through Arizona, and officials fear a rise in drug-related deaths will follow.

The strongest opioid available in medical treatment, pharmaceutical fentanyl, is used to treat severe pain and is usually administered through a patch. The euphoria-inducing drug is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and up to 100 times more potent than morphine.

Over the last couple of years, more than 700 people have died of fentanyl abuse in the United States, but the real number is likely higher because many state labs and coroner’s offices do not routinely test for fentanyl. Most deaths are attributed to the illegally manufactured version of the drug.

Since 2015, law enforcement agencies in Arizona have made at least five seizures of fentanyl — ranging from 4 ounces to 16 pounds — found inside stash houses and vehicles.

There are about 500,000 potential lethal doses of fentanyl in about 2 pounds, the Drug Enforcement Administration calculates. The equivalent to three grains of salt can be lethal to someone with a low tolerance.

“Fentanyl can put people to sleep to the point they can stop breathing,” said Greg Hess, chief medical examiner in Pima County. “Because fentanyl is more potent, the window or margin of error might be less for someone not as experienced.”

Only a small amount is needed of the illegal powder fentanyl cartels make to mix with heroin to make it stronger. Nationwide, persons dying from fentanyl are mostly heroin users exposed to fentanyl without knowing it.

There is no state data on fentanyl-related deaths, but the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner reported an increase from seven overdose deaths where fentanyl was listed as a contributing factor in 2014 to 17 last year.

“But what it means in the larger scheme of things, I don’t know,” said Hess.

The numbers include all overdose cases from Cochise, Santa Cruz and Pinal counties and additional cases from eight other counties.

During this time, there were only two deaths where combined heroin and fentanyl toxicity was listed as the cause of death. Medical examiners can’t distinguish between the pharmaceutical fentanyl and the illegally manufactured fentanyl smuggled through the U.S.-Mexico border.

But as the seizures continue, officials said it’s only a matter of time before the potentially deadly fentanyl-laced heroin makes its way here.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Big birthday gift for Palestinian seeking asylum in Tucson

Mounis Hammouda, center, a Palestinian from Gaza seeking asylum, celebrates his 30th birthday in Tucson with friends. Photo by Perla Trevizo/Arizona Daily Star.

One of two Palestinians seeking asylum celebrated his 30th birthday this week in Tucson after being released from an immigration center 80 miles north of Tucson.

Mounis Hammouda presented himself at the port of entry in Nogales in November 2014 and asked for refuge. He was detained at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement center in Florence while his case was processed.

Hammouda was released earlier this month, after members of the University of Arizona Students for Justice in Palestine chapter helped raise the $9,000 he needed to pay for his bond. He now lives with one of them close to the UA campus while he awaits his work permit.

“I feel optimistic,” Hammouda said recently as he celebrated his birthday with a new group of friends. “I hope I now continue my life, have a good job, go to school. I hope in future I continue my university, learn English, get married and have my family.”

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Tucson-area Cubans share thoughts on Obama visit

Arnaldo Mendez, Sr., right, and his son Arnaldo Mendez Jr. own a service station. The Mendez family fled Cuba in 1962. Photo by Mike Christy/Arizona Daily Star.

This week, President Obama plans a historic trip to Cuba, where he will meet with Cuban President Raúl Castro as well as with entrepreneurs and other residents from various walks of life.

Obama will be the first sitting U.S. president to visit the island in 88 years. Over the last year, he has worked to loosen restrictions on travel and commerce and has removed Cuba from a list of nations that support terrorism. Both governments have reopened embassies in Washington and Havana.

The Arizona Daily Star spoke with local Cubans about what all this change — including Obama’s visit — means to them.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.