Without proper training, tracking people who do not want to be found like narco-smugglers, human traffickers, illegal aliens and even potential terrorists crossing the United States border is a nearly impossible task, and can be extremely difficult even with training. They do their best to, literally, cover their tracks, and it’s the responsibility of the Border Patrol to pursue and apprehend these individuals.
While the Border Patrol “does perform standardized tracking training, proficiency varies based on the individual,” the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Science & Technology (S&T) Directorate said.
Border Patrol asked the S&T First Responders Group (FRG) to develop training to assist in increasing tracking abilities. Tracking, or “sign cutting,” is identifying telltale indicators of movement through the southern border’s desert or northern border’s wooded areas.
FRG worked with the Border Patrol and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center to “devise a way for Border Patrol agents to learn how to leverage expert trackers’ knowledge, skills and abilities,” S&T said in an announcement. “First, FRG’s Office of Public Safety Research (OPS-R) worked with Border Patrol to identify expert trackers in the Border Patrol workforce. Next, the research team conducted an in-depth analysis of the approaches and decision processes of expert trackers.”
The results of this research and technology development effort is called “Expert Tracker,” which is a completely new training program designed to improve the nation’s operational security capabilities along the border. In February 2017, 2D and 3D training videos were developed for sign cutting and transitioned to Border Patrol. The videos breakdown the visual cues of human activity.
“Having training like this at the fingertips of every Border Patrol agent would increase our operational security,” said Supervisory Border Patrol Agent and Operational Support Daniel Dean. “We have a responsibility to not only our agents, but the American people to have the best possible training available to our officers. The Expert Tracker training we are developing with DHS S&T keeps us at the forefront of integrating technology, current training research, and innovation.”
S&T said, “Often expert trackers are unable to articulate the cues that allow them to be so skillful in this task, or train other officers so they will have similar skills. Working collaboratively with Border Patrol agents, S&T OPS-R identified a need for improved training of this critical skill.”
“Not all expert trackers are expert instructors,” explained OPS-R Program Manager Darren Wilson. “So it was a great partnership to get to work with Border Patrol’s expert trackers to identify the cues, symbols and signs they look for. We then used our experts in training development to develop a product that leveraged that information to improve performance across the workforce.”
In addition to evaluating current training materials, the expert trackers walked the research and development team through their process at various locations along the southern border, including McAllen, Texas; Tucson, Arizona; and San Diego, California.
“During a structured interview with the research team, expert trackers identified key cues they use when conducting sign cutting and tracking,” S&T explained. “One or more evaluators then worked through the details of the tracking task, asking the Border Patrol trainers a set of questions to elicit even more details and information. Through this method, defined as a ‘cognitive walkthrough,’ the expert tracker articulate[ed] the task in different ways to allow the evaluators to fully understand the task and subtasks from different angles.”
The Expert Tracker videos have been incorporated into Border Patrol ‘s training programs. Phase two of the Expert Tracker began in May and includes development of a smartphone pp(s) that Border Patrol agents will have in the field to assist them when conducting the sign cutting task.