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Cover Story

Patrolling the Broken Border

In Nogales, Ariz., police officers interdict drug smugglers while facing the threat of cartel violence.

October 31, 2010  |  by - Also by this author

Would the cartels really declare war on American police officers like they have in Mexico? The answer is unclear, but they have proven in the past that they will do anything to protect their business.

Vague Stories

And despite America's Great Recession business is booming.

The Department of Justice's 2010 National Drug Threat Assessment estimated Mexican cartels receive $39 billion from drug trafficking. When those drugs reach the streets of Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, and other U.S. cities, they fetch as much as $200 billion.

On the Arizona border cartel suppliers are trying to keep up with the American public's demand for getting high and cops are doing their best to stem the flow.

Because of local and federal law enforcement efforts, drug seizures have been spiking. Nogales PD is part of that coordinated effort. From January to June of this year, the department seized more than 15,000 pounds of marijuana, compared to 10,000 and 11,000 pounds the prior two years. In the late 1990s, the department seized about 1,000 pounds a year.

With so much emphasis on drug seizures, the department relies heavily on its K-9 officers. Officer Amador Vasquez and his K-9 named Illo, a Czechoslovakian-trained German shepherd that responds only to Czech commands, assist patrol units on highway interdiction calls.

"Once we have probable cause, we make contact with the driver," Vasquez says. "Whether we use the K-9 is based on the story the driver gives us."

Narcotic transporters usually tell vague stories that they're searching for a friend-they can't remember the friend's address-or that they're "going to play soccer" without sporting equipment or gear.

Drugs are concealed in crevices of SUVs, pickup trucks, and passenger cars. Tractor trailers bring contraband hidden with a "cover load" of vegetables or watermelon.

Regardless of what stories the drivers tell or where the drugs are hidden, the Nogales PD has a record of finding them. And when they do find them, the department can benefit from vehicle forfeitures and cash seizures. Thirty-five transporter vehicles have brought almost $150,000 in asset forfeiture funds.

Unfortunately, drug smugglers can be very creative. So when vehicles come under suspicion, they find other means for getting their product into the country.

Some have even gone so far as to send the drugs in with sewage. Tightly wrapped packages have been floated through the International Outfall Interceptor (known as the IOI), a common sewage pipe that delivers wastewater from Nogales, Sonora, to the Nogales International Wastewater Treatment Plant six miles north of the border in Rio Rico, Ariz.

The drugs get in through a variety of means and, despite the best efforts of law enforcement, they then have to be warehoused until transporters can take them to U.S. cities. The houses used for this purpose are often rentals.

Tags: Drug Enforcement, Drug Trafficking, Organized Crime, Nogales (Ariz.) PD, U.S.-Mexico Border, Los Zetas Cartel

Comments (2)

Displaying 1 - 2 of 2

little Pebbles Academy @ 1/20/2011 11:33 AM

Its too bad our peoples arn't like Star Trek, where the whole planet takes part in the whole instead of killing each other.

Bob@Az. @ 6/4/2012 9:15 PM

little pebbles academy, HUH? I think you've been watching WAY to much tv. Our LEOs are being killed all along our "safe" border by the scum that run drugs & people. The locals scream bloody murder when one of their own is harmed but "didn't see anything" when questioned. Too many sheep.

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