By Brian Skoloff
PHOENIX — A border security convention opened in Phoenix with speeches from top government officials and exhibits of high-tech wares including drones, bulletproof vehicles, shock-proof clothing and mobile surveillance systems.
The eighth annual Border Security Expo will feature a keynote address Wednesday from U.S. Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher, whose agency has been loudly criticized for its use-of-force policies and a lack of transparency.
Along with panel discussions about port of entry operations and sharing intelligence, the expo features exhibitors displaying technology that they hope to sell to law enforcement agencies as they beef up border security.
The event's organizers say its aim is to bring law enforcement and policymakers together with industry leaders to discuss technological advances and share ideas about border security.
Alejandro Mayorkas, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, told a crowd Tuesday he hopes to work toward more transparency within the agency amid outcry from critics about lack of oversight.
Mayorkas said the agency needs to strengthen its partnerships with the private sector, noting "a tremendous public thirst" for greater knowledge of the agency's operations and mission.
"Criticism drives a more responsible and better government," he said.
Mayorkas' comments come about a week after the federal government released the Border Patrol's use-of-force policies while the agency's chief issued a directive that reiterates how personnel should respond to threats.
Immigrant rights groups have complained that Border Patrol agents are too trigger-happy in responding to people who throw rocks at them along the border with Mexico, often to distract agents from smugglers sneaking drugs into the U.S.
Fisher, in a memorandum to all agency personnel on March 7, reminded agents that the "level of force applied must reflect the totality of the circumstances surrounding each situation."
While Border Patrol policy has always held that agents may use deadly force if there is a reasonable threat of imminent death or serious injury, Fisher's directive reminded agents that they shouldn't fire their weapons unless absolutely necessary.
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Copyright 2014 The Associated Press