IMPERIAL — Many law enforcement agencies have received negative comments this year from the communities they serve, and the U.S. Border Patrol has not been immune to this subjectivity. However, the agency has decided to attempt to change the negative perspectives with a program designed to educate the public about the community service and protection it provides.
Called Operation Invisible Shield, the Border Patrol’s El Centro sector has initiated a program to educate the public on what officers do on a daily basis and give a perspective on their side of the law. It is meant to build trust, mutual respect, and understanding between the local community and law enforcement officials, according to officials.
The class has been open to the public for three years, and consists of a day of lecture, simulations, and training that is required and performed by Border Patrol agents on a regular basis. It is a facsimile of the actual training agents go through at least four times a year — more than the Imperial County Sheriff’s Office and local city police departments, according to Agent Alessio Fuccin, one of the Border Patrol’s Defensive Techniques Trainers. The class is open to the public as well as spouses of Border Patrol agents.
“With this we are trying to be transparent in what we do,” said Agent Jose Enriquez, who gave the presentation on the history of law enforcement. “We are not scared to show people what we do.”
The day consisted of a history of law enforcement and its role in society. Enriquez also discussed the current trends in social media of wanting to find and focus on the negative in law enforcement, especially when it comes to “excessive use of force.” He spoke about the trend to get 10 seconds of internet glory with videos, and how it can detract from the whole story behind the arrest.
“There’s a big disconnect between the general public and how we operate and our mindset and our training,” said Agent David Kim on what is defined as excessive force for Border Patrol and the public.
Enriquez said the program is meant to start dialogue between law enforcement officials and those who feel negative about it, especially those who believe law enforcement uses excessive force on people and that guns are pulled out because they are instantly planning on killing.
Heather Kershaw’s husband works in the Border Patrol, and she said stated he has taught her when it comes to the use of guns, they are for defending, rather than just to kill someone.
“The best way he put it to me, was that you’re shooting to stop a threat, not shooting to kill,” said Kershaw during the discussion on guns in the lecture.
After the lecture, the class moved on to a virtual reality simulation putting students in a situation that could involve taking out violent individuals, such as during a school shooting or talking someone down from doing something drastic. After the simulation, agents discussed with attendees what was going through their minds, how stressful the situation was, and what they as Border Patrol agents do about the stress.
The final part of the day was made up of training in some of the self-defense drills agents go through, taught by agents Faccin and Joel Merino, another Border Patrol Defensive Techniques Trainer.
Most of the moves the students learned are applied by agents in the field when the need has arisen, according to Faccin. At the end of the day, there was a final simulation that had students apprehending a suspect through any means necessary by applying all of the knowledge they had collected during the class.
“It’s fun to experience what your husband does on a daily basis,” said Amanda Venuti, one of the Border Patrol spouses who has attended the class before.
“I think it’s good to see what you guys do here,” said Marielys Acevedo.
The Border Patrol are there to serve, and that is what they are going to continue to do, stated Faccin.
Faccin said the Border Patrol hopes to expand this program to bring awareness to the Valley with a particular focus on those who view law enforcement as negative. The ladies who attended the event said they plan to spread the word around to other groups, especially other Border Patrol spouses.