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Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., right, listens as U.S. Border Patrol Academy Chief Patrol Agent Dan Harris elaborates on the academy’s non-lethal-force training during Udall’s visit Thursday to the FLETC. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., praised the efforts of the U.S. Border Patrol Academy and pledged his continued support of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Artesia and its mission during a visit Thursday to the facility.

Udall’s glimpse into the academy’s new training curriculum came on the heels of Congress’ passage Tuesday of bipartisan legislation reauthorizing the nation’s FLETCs. The bill now awaits President Barack Obama’s signature.

“We have the Border Patrol here, we have the Forest Service here, we have BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) here and Secret Service, so there are a number of federal law enforcement agencies here that are doing very important work for the nation,” Udall said during a press conference following his meeting with Border Patrol Academy Chief Patrol Agent Dan M. Harris Jr. “One of the things that happens is this has a big impact on the community, and we recognize that, and so we try to do everything we can to keep this facility in good shape and growing, and with adequate resources to do the job.”

Harris was appointed as chief patrol agent in July and has since committed to an extensive overhaul of the academy’s training curriculum.

“We train the men and women to serve as topnotch professional law enforcement officers so that they get it right when they leave here,” Harris said. “So we’ve done the largest rewrite, basically turned our academy upside down to provide that highest quality.

“We’re excited about what that has to offer.”

With the use of deadly force by law enforcement officers under extreme scrutiny in the wake of numerous incidents throughout the nation, Harris says non-lethal force has been a particular focus in Border Patrol agents’ training.

“In our new curriculum, we almost tripled the amount of hours that we train in use of force so when new agents leave here, they will have every non-lethal-force training tool available to them,” Harris said. “It starts with deescalation, how to slow the situation down, how to be able to use cover – use those things so they can not even get into the scenario.

“Let’s say we get into it, though. It starts with your words, it starts with pepper spray, maybe a Taser. The last thing that an agent ever wants to do is take a human being’s life or have to do that in the line of duty, but we want them to be safe, too. Assaults against Border Patrol agents in this past year were up 242 percent nationwide, so it’s a very dangerous time, as we all know, for the law enforcement profession.”

Udall said he was impressed with what he saw during his visit and with the strides Harris has made in his five short months on the job.

“It’s great to see (Harris) down here putting this new curriculum in place and just making sure in every way that he can that we have those kinds of safe encounters,” Udall said. “Law enforcement run into very, very difficult situations every day, and we need to recognize that.”

Udall also offered his thoughts on the current state of border security and border relations in the wake of the recent tumultuous presidential election. He expressed his confidence that Congress will be willing to work with president-elect Donald Trump provided he shares that willingness.

“I think we’re at a period in our history right now where we have a new president coming in, many things were said on the campaign trail that may not play out in actuality,” Udall said. “I think it’s important that the president-elect get his people in place, that he get good people, that he listen to them, and then see what are the things that actually need to be done.

“These border issues are not partisan issues. Democrats, Republicans, independents across the country care about the way the border operates and the way the border should operate. There’s always a little anxiety when you get to a change in administrations and where things are going to go for people, but we have good, solid professionals (at the FLETC) that are just doing the job, doing the training, and then putting people out on the border to make sure that our country’s safe.”

Udall and Harris both expressed their desire to see the Border Patrol reach its full capacity of 21,370 agents. Right now, the agency stands 1,600 agents short of that number, and Udall says officials are working “very aggressively” to fill those spots, with adequate room for more training at the Artesia FLETC.

As for the FLETC itself, its re-authorization is, once more, welcome news for the Artesia community, which has housed the facility since the government’s purchase of the former Artesia Christian College campus at North 13th Street and Richey Avenue was finalized in 1989.

“This was a choice spot, and I think the community and the mayor were very welcoming,” Udall said. “You always have, at the national level, a lot of jockeying going on and people trying to move things out to other areas, and so I feel my job is protecting something that’s good for the nation and also protecting this community and this part of New Mexico.”