Vice President Mike Pence said last month that a spike in assaults against Border Patrol agents was one of the most shocking stories he’d heard in the last year.
“Attacks on our Border Patrol agents [in the last year] increased by 73 percent,” Pence said.
It turns out the statistics the vice president cited were shocking because the methodology the Border Patrol uses to track assaults is itself shocking.
For years, the agency tracked the number of assaults by simply counting the number of agents who were assaulted, like most law enforcement agencies.
But in 2015, the Border Patrol started counting assaults in a bizarre new way, according to a new report from the Intercept (emphasis mine):
[T]he agency apparently veered sharply from traditional reporting practices to a new system that counts the number of agents assaulted during an incident, then multiplies that figure by the number of perpetrators and the weapons used, thus neatly reversing the downward trend on the number of assaults.
With this new tracking method, the Border Patrol was able to claim that in 2017 there were “786 assaults, a spike of 73 percent, even as apprehensions fell from 415,816 to 310,532,” the site noted.
The Intercept looked into data and found one major source of that “spike” came from a single day in the Rio Grande Valley. The data showed there were “271 purported assaults” when seven agents were assaulted:
In response to questions from The Intercept, Coleman explained in an email that “an incident in the Rio Grande Valley Sector on February 14, 2017, involved seven U.S. Border Patrol Agents assaulted by six subjects utilizing three different types of projectiles (rocks, bottles, and tree branches), totaling 126 assaults.”
According to conventional law enforcement accounting, this single incident should have been tallied as seven agents assaulted — not seven agents times six perpetrators times three projectiles.
A Customs and Border Patrol spokesperson told the site that the new formula was simply “the most transparent method of reporting.”
News outlets went on to report the pseudo-spike in attacks against Border Patrol agents with no mention of the new methodology. This resulted in headlines like Newsweek’s “Under Trump, violence skyrockets against U.S. Agents at Mexico border, officials say.” Breitbart claimed, “Border Patrol agents are reported to be the most assaulted of all federal law enforcement agents and officers.”
There are some legitimate Border Patrol-related abuse reports in the news. The Mexican government claims Border Patrol agents are illegally dumping people over the border, for instance. And worse, a lawsuit has accused Border Patrol agents of illegally turning people away who are seeking asylum.