Skip to comments.Thirty Percent of New Border Agents Leave Their Jobs in Less Than 18 Months
Posted on 08/28/2008 2:35:10 AM PDT by Man50D
Law enforcement officers wanted: must work graveyard shifts alone in remote towns along the Mexican border, put in long hours and perform well in triple-digit temperatures.
That message is never touted in U.S. Border Patrol recruitment brochures, but the sobering reality of working on the border has created an environment in which about 30 percent of agents leave their jobs in less than 18 months.
"This has complications up and down the line," said Richard Stana, director of homeland security issues at the Government Accountability Office. "You're constantly in a recruiting mode ... If this population keeps churning, you're constantly training."
The Border Patrol's struggle to keep new hires has become more evident as the agency comes close to meeting President Bush's target of 18,000 agents by the end of the year, up from 12,000 two years ago and double the number from eight years ago. The hiring surge means 42 percent of agents have less than three years on the job.
The GAO estimates that taxpayers pay $14,700 for each trainee at the Border Patrol Academy in Artesia, N.M. That 2006 figure doesn't take into account the many additional hours that senior agents spend training hires during a two-year probationary period.
Money aside, a revolving door means a large percentage of the force will always be inexperienced.
"You've got to fill the slots, but you want quality people who are not going to leave," said Jeremy Wilson, associate director of RAND Corp.'s Center for Quality Policing. "You don't want to spend time and resources on someone if they're just going to up and leave."
About 20 percent of Border Patrol employees fail to graduate from the academy, which lasts up to 95 days for trainees who need to learn Spanish. More leave after returning to their stations.
The attrition rate for entry-level agents--generally those who have been on the job for 18 months or less--is 29.6 percent since October, up from 23.7 percent during the previous 12-month period and 22.7 percent the year before, the agency said.
Senior agents tend to stay put, but the growing number of newcomers has raised the Border Patrol's overall attrition rate to 10.9 percent since October from 9.6 percent during the previous 12-month period and 6.7 percent the year before.
Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez of California said the attrition rate signals a need to slow hiring.
"The solution is to give the (Border Patrol) chief a bit of breathing space to find the right recruits," she said.
Border Patrol officials said they are not bothered. They insist the agency's growth has made it easier to get promoted and more likely that new hires will get to pick where they want to work along the Mexican border.
"In any job or any career, the first year or two you're learning whether it's for you," Assistant Chief Michael Olsen said.
The Border Patrol warns recruits that their first assignments are often in small, isolated towns, some with poor schools and medical care. The heat can be stifling in places like Calexico, Calif., where the average daily high temperature is 104 degrees in July.
Some recruits get homesick. New hires must work on the Mexican border. After two years, they can seek transfers to the Canadian border or to Washington, D.C., but competition for those jobs can be fierce.
"If you're from Kansas, you're not going home," said Quinn Palmer, a Border Patrol spokesman in El Centro, Calif.
Mike Fisher, the Border Patrol's San Diego sector chief, had never been west of Cleveland when he got his first assignment in Douglas, Ariz. He was warned about the heat and the long drive to Phoenix, but no words could have prepared him.
"It's a huge culture shock," he said.
The high cost of living is a drawback in San Diego. A Border Patrol agent starts at $36,658 a year, though overtime can improve pay up to 25 percent. After three years, pay can climb to about $70,000 a year, including overtime.
Boredom is another job hazard. Agents in Imperial Beach wait alone in parked Jeeps and pickups, waiting for migrants to jump the border fence and make a run for the nearest patch of stores and homes.
Darin Bowdin of Sacramento, who joined the station in October 2006, wants to be promoted to a special unit--like all-terrain vehicles, horseback, boat patrol or SWAT-style teams--but those jobs are off-limits until he finishes two years.
For now, the 27-year-old says: "I've just got to sit my time on the line watching the fence."
Kate Griffith applied at the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration but lacked experience, so she joined the Border Patrol in January 2007 after hearing a radio ad.
"I thought it would be an opportunity to get in federal law enforcement," said Griffith, who likes her job but would eventually consider returning home to York, Pa.
Recruiters are going to extraordinary lengths to find applicants. New television ads show agents jumping out of a helicopter, climbing over boulders and sitting on galloping horses.
In September alone, the agency will hold job fairs from Honolulu to Charleston, S.C. It is sponsoring NASCAR and professional bull riding contests. Specialized teams focus on hiring women and African-Americans.
The Imperial Beach station has grown to 400 agents from 300 since October, with more than 40 percent having less than 2 1/2 years at the agency. Of the 100 newest hires, 20 have left, most before finishing training.
Some are unprepared even after graduating from the academy, said Erich Haas, who trains new hires, known as interns.
"When they return from the academy, the first thing I tell them is that it's going to be tough, lots of long hours," Haas said. "I've seen some interns realize after the first couple days that this is a different animal."
Mostly what you’re seeing here is a phenomenon common to most public safety agencies, both police and fire. Those who don’t score high enough to get hired off the street by their favorite agency take an entry level job somewhere else, then “lateral in” to the job they actually wanted. Having L.E. experience elsewhere gives you a better shot at getting hired by your “dream agency”.
Volunteer fire departments have similar problems, and some of them use the fact that they have trained a lot of people who went on to full time employment elsewhere as a recruiting tool.
There’s always going to be some agency that’s in this “training ground for the world” role, and it’ll always be the one with the lowest wages or the toughest working conditions, nothing unusual about that at all. I doubt that very many (if any) of those leaving the BP are doing so because they’re caught in some great personal struggle over the morality of arresting Mexicans, as the author seems to be interested in implying.
Heck, I'd give it a shot. Um, let me rephrase that.
Seriously, in a certain respect we have a Vietnam problem on the southern border: We can't lose, but we're not allowed to win. Our fearful leaders don't want the BP to succeed too well. So the agents in the field are laboring under conflicting agency aims on top of excessively rigid requirements for scrupulosity in combat.
It's a losing combination.
Good point. The south bronx is safer for a police officer than the Mexican border!
That's nothing compared to what we'll pay for their pensions.
“Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez of California said the attrition rate signals a need to slow hiring.
I’ll bet she does. We already make it easy enough on them on she’d like to see a big ol ‘Welcome:Come and Get your Benefits” sign at the border coupled with a free ride in a Mercedes to the city of your choice.
As for the agents. Would you want to do a job where you are that badly outgunned and where the federal government doesn’t support you very well? I wouldn’t.
I thing you pretty much nailed the whole mess. Ramos and Compean come to mind as well as a lot of genuflecting to Mexico from Bush. We have a Coast Guard, we need a Border Guard, not a Border Patrol. It should be a military entity and handled as a military matter. This would save the taxpayers money, yet the argument is always that having the military on the border would cost more. I remember when the terrorists struck out at Americans here and abroad and the metric was "bring the criminals to justice". That is, until 9-11 and Bush. I have nothing against Border Patrol and they do the best with what they have, but a military entity is needed on the border.
Unfortunately, I don't think it'll ever sell. I think there are enough people who think that military folks are bad and military justice is unjust and military action is just tool, well, icky to keep Congress from allowing such a thing.
And of course, since the Messiah has explained to us that the government exists to take care of "us", "we" don't want our HDTV money being spent on those nasty brutish soldiers who will just come back home and shoot up our neighborhoods.If this nation doesn't develop a more self-reliant and warrior-oriented attitude soon, we're toast.
Yep, like you said the point of this journey is to never arrive. Militarized drug cartels vs. Law Enforcement; we know who is going to win that contest 95% of the time.