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Sen. Byrd says control of facility should not be changed

April 03, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

Control over a Harpers Ferry facility that is to train Border Patrol officers should not be switched to a different federal agency, Sen. Robert C. Byrd said Friday.

President Bush has proposed handing control of the facility over to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

Doing so could undermine the trust established between local residents and U.S. Customs, said Tom Gavin, Byrd's press secretary.

If control of the facility changes hands, more officers could be trained there, meaning the training might not be as specialized, Gavin said.

"U.S. Customs and Border Patrol has a very specialized mission. It's an advanced mission," Gavin said. "Basic training is not what these men and women need."

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With the merger of the Customs Service and the Border Patrol within the new Department of Homeland Security, CBP now has more than 30,000 officers, the nation's largest cadre of armed federal law enforcement officers, according to a press release from Byrd's office.

The training facility, on 104 acres near the western border of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, would be the first to provide advanced law enforcement training specifically related to border protection efforts, Byrd said.

The facility, which includes a firing range, an armory and practical training areas, is to open in September. The center is expected to have around 40 employees and train more than 2,000 border patrol officers a year, according to Byrd's office.

"As the country faces ongoing threats from terrorists attempting to cross U.S. borders, the law enforcement agents charged with protecting those borders must receive the most comprehensive training possible," Byrd said. "The new facility in Jefferson County was designed and constructed to provide advanced firearms and tactical training to Customs and Border Patrol law enforcement personnel, and its purpose should not be undermined just months before its doors are scheduled to open."

The Federal Law Enforcement Training Center - the agency that Bush has proposed take control of the facility - primarily provides basic training to all federal law enforcement officers.

"The law enforcement officers who guard the nation's borders face unique tactical situations and are exposed to specific types of danger," Byrd said. "It is more important than ever for these agents to receive specialized advanced training to help them to succeed in their critical homeland security mission."

In a 2000 appropriations bill, Byrd included $24.9 million to establish the facility and the Customs Service provided another $5.3 million.

Byrd organized meetings between U.S. Customs and local residents and officials to ensure that the design of the new facility addressed concerns about noise, traffic and historical protection efforts.

As appropriations bills move forward, Byrd may look for ways to ensure the facility stays under U.S. Customs' control, Gavin said.

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