Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Joel Vargas: Border Patrol Agents should be paid at or above average in law enforcement pay

Commissioner Aguilar receives a 9/11 Award from Jay Grant, Secretary General

Washington D.C.—After reading an article in The Desert Sun by Omar Ornelas, I was intrigued enough that I forwarded the article to Secretary General Jay Grant of the International Association of Airport and Seaport Police (InterPort Police) for his thoughts.

InterPort Police has for close to a decade recognized the officers and law enforcement leadership with 9/11 Awards for the contribution they make for National Security in Airports, Seaports, Borders and Cities in the United States and around the world. 

On 2011, Janet Napolitano, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security was the recipient of the highest award by InterPort Police. The award is the Fred V. Morrone 9/11 Memorial Award. Superintendent Morrone of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) died during the 9/11 Attacks to the twin towers along with 36 other officers of his team. Morrone was the President Elect of InterPort Police as well that year.

On 2012, David Aguilar (Ret.), Commissioner of the US Customs & Border Protection was also awarded an award by InterPort Police as well. He received the International Police and Public Safety 9/11 Medal (IPM) for his work in border management.

After I spend a little time reading the article in The Desert Sun, I opted, as a graduate of a law school, to review the Patrol Agent Pay Reform Act, which in my opinion requires master degrees in economics, law, accounting, statistics, and labor laws in order to figure it out (a few other professional disciplines may also be needed). In short, it is complex and it is impossible to understand.

In the same article, there is a petition for Congressional Action, which I recommend you sign. 
After reading the article and signing my petition, I began to think why it is important to compare the salaries of Border Patrol Agents with salaries of other law enforcement agencies in the US.
The career in the Border Patrol is not a career that compares to any other law enforcement career or position. This job requires not only physical sacrifices but requires a commitment unlike any other law enforcement job. Period. 

It is obvious that the people who wrote the law in order to cut 100 million dollars, which is a good round number, may have failed to spend time on the border working with one of the women or men who spend their careers in conditions not tailored for suits and ties. Considering that the Obama Administration wants to give to corrupt Central American countries over 1 Billion dollars… I have news, the millions they already gave have been stolen by their government. Google Roxana Baldetti, the VP of Guatemala who just resigned. Where is the US AID for the last few years in Guatemala?
Bureaucrats who are in favor of the cuts in their pay argue that $6,000 a year cut is not that much but let’s analyze this deeper.

Border Patrol is a job that is not made for the average law enforcement professional so let’s start with that as an initial point. Why? 

A person looking to get into law enforcement goes into state, county, or local police forces (and some end up in federal agencies). However, Border Patrol is not immediately their number one choice. I see that on a regular basis when I advise young people who are looking to get into law enforcement. I like to advice young students from Harper College and Elmhurst College, as a volunteer. 

For some of the students who are bilingual in Spanish and English, I immediately recommend them to try the Border Patrol and the responses vary but mainly the objections center around: “working conditions… which, amount to spending 20 years in over 100 degrees environments and mostly outdoors battling the elements.” Of course, also battling criminal organizations that have a lot of firepower.

The commitment into the Border Patrol Career is not an easy one and the demands put on their families are even greater. Becoming a cop in a town and get 20-40% more pay, when compared to what a Border Patrol Agent starting pay, where the biggest call of the day is dealing with a domestic trouble is much more appealing for the career law enforcement professional. And in many cases, the new law enforcement recruit decides to do just that instead of going for the law enforcement career in National Security, where no day is the same. 

Did I mention many (if not most) of the new agents have to leave their families in other places because they just can’t afford with their current salary to move their families into assigned locations. In very high number of occasions the agent relocates and attempts to keep up with payments and expenses in their new residence plus providing to their family in another part of the country.

Is 6% or $6000 a year CUT in the salary of a border agent is a big deal? 

The Border Patrol Agent is entrusted with the National Security of this great nation and their pay should be equal or above what other law enforcement personnel are paid in the United States. Using the pay scales of local law enforcement agencies on the border is wrong.

Drug cartels in Mexico own law enforcement mostly because their pay is horrible and the compensation by the cartels is much better. Take what a cop in Reynosa is earning right now. He or she may be making $800 dollars a month as a cop.
The cartel offers him or her $2000-5000 a month to perform a number of activities (activities that are seeing in the newspapers on a regular basis like disappearing 43 students in Iguala, Guerrero, kidnap, torture, and execute rivals) on their behalf (this of course in addition to their government salary). The corrupt cop’s salary just gets a huge increase, at what expense?

With this in mind, another point worth making in this article is that are we going to be allowing this to happen in the US? 

Are the acts of cutting their salary making the recruitment efforts by the cartels on our border agents much more appealing for someone who may be forced to take their money because they are broke and can’t make ends meet?
I heard of the pain of a few of border agents on the Southwest border when I travel there. I normally find them in restaurants and of course I identify myself as part of the LE community so they can chat freely. 

I have heard stories such as one agent who was getting evicted and another one where the wife was leaving him because they can’t keep up with the career he decided to go into… 

ladies and gentlemen these are called sacrifices.

“Salary of police officers, especially those who are federal as is the case with the Border Patrol, should be paid fairly… having to worry about making the monthly nut tot take care of their family while performing an honorable, professional and dangerous job is not something our officers should have to worry about,” according to Secretary Grant.

Here is another point for consideration: Why are salaries so low for the starting Patrol Agent when compared to other National Security Agencies in the US Government? 

For some unknown reason, the Border Patrol Agent starting salary is below what most cities in the US pay. I know it because years ago, when I was young I applied to the Border Patrol and took their exam. After I passed the exam, I was asked for an interview and that was the point when I began to look at the pay. At that time I was already making about 100k and the sacrifice in my family, along with the pay cut just could not be reconciled, so I passed the opportunity.

Secretary Grant adds, “Consider many starting salaries of larger cities: Seattle- over $64,000, Los Angeles – over $57,000 and San Diego – Over $48,000. Being a sworn officer is stressful and almost all would tell you they do not get in the job for the money, but al the end of the day it is what pays the bills and officers need to be paid fairly.” 

In reality, a bigger challenge coming to the Border Patrol, that not many are willing to talk about is where does the agency plans to recruit for new agents? 

The new generations of professionals in law enforcement complete with the private sector for jobs. The goal for National Security and Border Patrol is to attract the best of the best. The FBI and the CIA can go to the top universities in the US to recruit from the pool of the best of the best and entice these minds into joining because of a conviction and the pay. 
Yes, pay plays a big role in the decision.

Border Patrol should be able to compete with these two agencies for talent, since they are all in National Security or are they not in the same business?
Cutting salaries or creating a convoluted program to cut into their overtime and their income is just wrong and requires further examination.

Lastly, we stand by our brothers and sisters in the border patrol.

If needed, I would be happy to volunteer my time to address anyone in congress or in the Obama Administration who may want to learn about what the work the Border Patrol Agent does and why his or her salaries should not be reduced but actually be brought to the level to compete with other law enforcement agencies.

Of course, DHS can lower their standards to get more agents in to become Border Patrol Agents, but I remind them of what is going on in Mexico and also what happened in Miami in the 80’s, when they did that because they had issues recruiting high quality talent.

Together we can bring the attention not to NUMBERS but to things that really matter in National Security and more importantly Border Security. I recommend to increase the salaries to compete not only with other law enforcement in the US and the private sector as well, instead of finding ways to cut their income. 

We must stand by the border patrol agents and their sacrifices.

Secretary General Jay Grant’s LinkedIn account: https://linkedin.com/in/jaybgrant
If you would like to learn about the 9/11 Awards from InterPort Police, which will take place during the International Association of Chiefs of Police meeting in Chicago on October, visit: https://www.interportpolice.org/2015-911-award-medal-nominations-open/ Secretary Grant’s Email: jay.grant@interportpolice.org

If you are in the security business or serve the security and law enforcement industries and you would like to learn how to be a sponsor of the 9/11 Award Program visit:
 http://www.911award.com/ or Email Secretary Grant.

I can be reached at his LinkedIn account: https://www.linkedin.com/pub/joel-vargas/44/aa1/864 I can also be reached my email at joel.vargas@interportpolice.org 
I am currently the Assistant Director for Law Enforcement Operations and Head of Intelligence for InterPort Police. I reports directly to Secretary Grant. 

About the Author:
Joel Vargas is a Latin America Intelligence specialist and political adviser with over 20 years experience in risk management, law enforcement, politics, policy and intelligence operations. While his focus is on intelligence and research in the public sector in the Americas, Joel also undertakes security planning and risk management work for private clients, and is the founder of Contingent Security Services Ltd. Joel has been involved in humanitarian missions in every country in Central America and Mexico and Joel has been the advisor to leaders in Latin America in Foreign Policy, National Security, and Criminal Intelligence. You may contact Joel with your comments and questions.