Patrol Agent in Charge Paul Kuhn, right, and Deputy PAIC Eric Torres, left, pose outside the Beecher Falls U.S. Border Patrol Station in Canaan, Vt. Under a law passed by the New Hampshire Legislature in 2016, agents from the station were sworn in in January to enforce state laws in Coos County. (JOHN KOZIOL/SUNDAY NEWS CORRESPONDENT)
In the North Country, U.S. Border Patrol is part of the NH law enforcement team
Up in the vast, remote and sparsely-populated reaches of Coos County, the cavalry wears many different uniforms, but is guided by one credo: When something happens, everyone goes.
Everyone includes local police and fire departments, New Hampshire Fish and Game, New Hampshire State Police and the U.S. Border Patrol.
Last June, the New Hampshire Legislature adopted House Bill 1298, which, among other things, permits Border Patrol agents - conditioned upon their completing a course at and certification by the N.H. Police Standards and Training Council - to "... make an arrest pursuant to New Hampshire law for violation of New Hampshire laws in Coos County.."
Sponsors of HB 1298 pointed out that while Border Patrol has long been a vital part of policing Coos County, the federal agents did not have the same immunity from liability that a state or municipal officer has. That changed on Jan. 1, when HB 1298 went into effect.
A swearing-in ceremony for the Border Patrol agents was held Jan. 19 at the N.H. State Police Troop F barracks in Twin Mountain.
Lt. Gary Prince, the Troop F commander, in a March 13 email wrote that "We have always had a fantastic relationship with the U.S. Border Patrol," adding that HB 1298 "has not changed our relationship with Border Patrol at all..."
"If our troopers need assistance with manpower at accident scenes, domestic situations, burglary alarms, etc., we continue to request Border Patrol to assist, and they do their very best to provide the assets we need. On the flip side, if the Border Patrol needs our assistance, we will provide them with all the assets they need."
Prince pointed out that the calls for assistance are usually outgoing from Troop F to Border Patrol, not the other way around.
"The reality is that we request Border Patrol assistance far more often than they request our assistance, and fortunately they don't keep score of that fact. They have some gracious agents and they understand that the NH State Police does not have adequate staffing to handle everything on our own," said Prince.
"You will hear time and time again, and from every state, local and federal agency in the area, that we all have to work together for public safety. It has been a time-honored tradition and it will continue that way now that HB1298 has become law."
Pittsburg Police Chief John LeBlanc called the Border Patrol "the clutch player when it comes to law enforcement in the North Country."
LeBlanc reiterated the often-heard observation that Coos County is huge and that law-enforcement resources there are scarce.
"After starting my law-enforcement career with the Colebrook Police Department, and now serving the residents of Pittsburg, I can say without hesitation that Border Patrol is a huge asset. From search and rescue and scene security, to de-escalating situations with suicidal subjects, and active-shooter response. I have worked with Border Patrol on numerous calls and they stepped up to the plate with professionalism and vigilance when called upon each time."
"With the adoption of HB 1298 it now allows these same professionals who have always answered our calls without hesitation, to continue to do so with the same protection we have as local and state entities," said LeBlanc. "I do not see the Pittsburg Police Department changing the way we utilize their assistance and will continue to work hand in hand to provide a safer environment for the residents of Coos County."
Colebrook Police Chief Stephen Cass also said it wasn't likely that his department's relationship with the Border Patrol would change because of HB1298.
"We have always worked well together and they have been more than willing to assist when we have needed them," said Cass. "We will always support any North Country law enforcement entity because when the chips are down all we have is each other until the cavalry arrives."
No 'power grab'
In a March 9 interview, Paul Kuhn, the patrol agent in charge of the Border Patrol station in Beecher Falls, Vt., said "the impression that a lot of people had was that this (HB 1298) was a power grab by the federal government, and it was not."
Before and since the Jan. 19 ceremony, Border Patrol agents responded to calls from "everywhere" throughout Coos County when requested.
"We were already doing this stuff as a service to the community," he said. "We didn't have the liability protection to do it, but the state gave it to us."
Each day, agents from the Beecher Falls Border Patrol Station cover 78 miles of the U.S.-Canadian border, 58 of them in New Hampshire, by vehicle, ATV, snowmobile, air or on foot.
Since Fiscal Year 2010, agents from the Beecher Falls station have apprehended illegal aliens from 36 countries. Kuhn wouldn't specify the number of apprehensions or to elaborate on what techniques or technology is being used by Border Patrol, saying "I'm not going to get into specifics."
A slide show presentation Kuhn gave as background for this article, however, showed that the agency has high-definition cameras along "The Slash," the 20-foot wide clearcut that marks the U.S./Canada border and that runs more than 5,500 miles from Maine to Alaska, mostly through remote wilderness.
Some of the Beecher Falls station's less-classified assets include a canine unit that is qualified to do search and rescue and to find concealed human beings and controlled substances, as well as an agent who is trained as an EMT. Both the dog and the EMT have assisted agencies in the North Country.
In Coos County, the Border Patrol is the conduit for federal Operation Stonegarden grants which have funded the installation of a radio repeater in Pittsburg and the purchase of a variety of other equipment.
Apart from its law-enforcement partners, Border Patrol also works with civilian authorities. Kuhn said he or other agents from the Beecher Falls station are frequent attendees at local selectmen's and school board meetings.
With such a large patrol area, Kuhn said a friendly, supportive local populace is a "force multiplier."
"The key is to let people know we're here to help, we're not an occupying force. I live in the community," said Kuhn, who lives in Clarksville and is fluent in how things work in the world way above the notches.
"There's an old saying up here that when something happens, everybody goes."