ICE Directive Describes Policies Governing Homeland Security’s “Special Response Teams”

An Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations Special Response Team (SRT) member discusses the technical characteristics of the MRAP vehicles used by SRTs around the country.

Public Intelligence

A recently discovered directive from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) details the policies behind Special Response Teams (SRT) that have been drawing attention in recent years for their large, militaristic armored vehicles and increasing involvement in law enforcement actions around the country.  The directive was posted online in 2009 by a local chapter of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), one of the the largest labor unions for federal employees.

The directive describes the guidelines for creating and maintaining “tactical teams” that are used in high-risk law enforcement actions.  The teams consist of “specially authorized and equipped teams of ICE law enforcement officers, team leaders, and tactical supervisors who are specially trained to conduct and/or manage high-risk enforcement operations using specialized weapons, tactics and equipment.” These teams, including SRTs, work to “conduct and/or manage” operations that involve sensitive or high-risk circumstances “requiring tactical capabilities beyond those of the typical ICE enforcement officer.”  Circumstances where a tactical team might be employed include actions involving suspects “with a history of violence or resisting arrest”, members of organizations that “advocate violence” or locations with fortified buildings or property requiring special access.  Tactical teams can also be deployed in “sensitive” law enforcement investigations, including politically sensitive situations such as “possible corruption or other criminal conduct by any foreign official or government, religious organization, political organization, celebrities, or the news media.”

SRTs are formally under the control of ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). HSI is the largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security, formerly ICE’s Office of Investigations, with 6,700 special agents in 200 U.S. cities and 47 countries around the world.  A letter from the Director of Labor Relations at ICE states that the implementation of the directive “results from the Agency’s effort to document existing tactical team operations, training and qualification standards” that have been in place since ICE was created in 2003.

ICE offices can also request tactical teams from other parts of the country to participate in law enforcement operations in their area.  For example, SRTs were deployed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and they have also assisted with security at past Super Bowls.

An Example of “High-Risk” Operations

In one recent incident, several agents from the Los Angeles SRT were wounded in a violent raid on the home of a suspected gang member in Northern California who was wanted in connection with several 2010 homicides. The raid, which has been criticized by local community members as using excessive force, involved dozens of agents and police as well as a mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) armored vehicle.  The confrontation ultimately led to a firefight inside the home during which three of the team members were reportedly shot.

An account of the incident was given by Victor Flores, the father of the suspected gang member who, along with his son, began shooting at the early morning intruders believing them to be threatening one of their family members.  Flores was in the bathroom, getting ready to go to work at an auto body shop where he had worked for more than twenty years, when he heard a scream and yelled for his son, thinking that someone had attacked his wife.  His son grabbed a shotgun and rifle from a nearby closet, handing one of the guns to his father.  The two crawled into another room and a barrage of gunfire erupted, during which his son reportedly wounded three of the ICE agents.  Once Flores’ son realized the men were police, his father says he put down the gun.  Flores said he had “no way to know the intruders were Homeland Security agents” and believed them to be criminals.

When both of the men, as well as Flores’ youngest son, had all been handcuffed and taken outside, the shooting continued despite the fact that there was no one left in the house.  One of the family’s two dogs was shot and killed during the raid.  The other escaped and an agent reportedly “chased it with a gun.”  Victor Flores began to cry when telling a reporter how he he begged the agents, “Don’t kill my dogs!”

The raid left the house with “extensive damage” including burns, blood stains and walls riddled with bullet holes, one of which penetrated a headboard inches above the head of Flores youngest son.  A couch, that the Flores’ had recently begun making payments on was covered in bullet holes and then torn apart during a search of the home.  “I don’t know why they did this to us,” Ana Flores later told the Press Democrat.  The family said that their son, the target of the raid, had been in court one week earlier and could easily have been taken into custody at any time.

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