Join Date: Sep 2008
Location: Your Fridge
10 Common Indicators for Highway Drug Interdiction
In today’s drug smuggling world, highway drug traffickers are constantly attempting to think of new an innovative ways to conceal their contraband from law enforcement. Little do they realize that the same methods they come up with have been being used for decades by their predecessors. Through thousands of narcotic interdiction arrests by skilled interdiction officers all over the country, we have learned many of these traits and characteristics. Below, I have outlined ten popular techniques that highway drug traffickers attempt to use in hopes that they will successfully get their dope to their destination. By familiarizing yourself with some of these tips, you too can increase your interdiction success. Keep in mind you must always have probable cause to stop a vehicle.
We have all heard of highway drug smugglers attempting to use large amounts of air fresheners in their vehicles. Not only can you look at for the famous “Christmas Tree” air fresheners hanging from the rear view mirror and other places in the vehicle, but you can also be aware of several other tactics that you may not have picked up on in the past. For example, do you notice several bottles of cologne or perfume in the car, and have they recently been sprayed prior or during your traffic stop of the vehicle? Is there a large bag of scented pipe tobacco, opened, laying in the vehicle but you notice the driver is smoking a cigarette? Or maybe you find it odd that as soon as you stop the car, the driver lights up a cigarette immediately, filling the car with smoke, but has no desire to roll down the windows? These are all examples of masking the odor on the surface of the stop. Masking odors placed directly onto packages of contraband can include animal urine, cayenne pepper, mustard, animal blood, oil and just about anything they feel may frighten off a drug canine or further mask the odor of contraband.
LAW ENFORCEMENT STICKERS AND SLOGANS
Most officers know that the “State troopers association” stickers you see on vehicle are mailed to random people and solicit money that often are not associated with any law enforcement entity. Most experienced officer’s will also come to determine that most cars they stop with these stickers do not belong to anyone in law enforcement. When you stop or see vehicle traveling across many states with an abundance of these stickers, be aware that they will often put these stickers all over their vehicles, thinking that we as officer’s will think they are “Officer Friendly”.
The same goes for religious bumper stickers, symbols and bibles strategically placed throughout the vehicle. I once recovered 80 pounds of vacuum-sealed marijuana placed under the carpet of the vehicle. The driver was traveling down the interstate with the biggest bible I have ever seen, lying open on the front dashboard of his rental car.
RENTAL CAR AGREEMENTS/PAPERWORK
It has been known for years that drug smugglers like to rent vehicles to transport drugs. There are many reasons for this. Often the simple fact is that there personal cars are old and not as dependable as a new rental car. Other reasons include avoiding seizure of their personal vehicles in the event they are caught and arrested. Whatever the reason, the rental agreement paper work can offer several indicators to the investigating officer that could end up instrumental in establishing reasonable suspicion. Questions to ask yourself when inspecting this paperwork are:
Is the driver of the car listed on the rental agreement?
If not, is the person listed on the rental agreement even in the vehicle?
Can the driver give you specific details as to who is on the rental agreement and his
relationship to this person?
Does the name listed on the rental agreement show to have a criminal history?
What city and state was the rental car rented in and what distance is that from where you have the vehicle stopped?
What day and time was the rental car rented and how much time has lapsed since then?
What was the mileage listed when the car was rented and how far has it traveled since then? Is the mileage traveled consistent with the occupants’ story as to where they have traveled?
Another great tool to use with rental cars can be to contact the rental agency, identify yourself and explain to them that you have one of their vehicle pulled over, several states away from where it was rented, explain that the renter of the car is not in the vehicle and possible that the people in the vehicle may not even know the person that rented the car. Often times they will ask you to impound the car for them so they can pick it up. This gives you, the officer the opportunity to inventory the contents of the vehicle, thus discovering any contraband.
SPECIFIC TOOLS USED TO ACCESS WHERE THE DOPE IS HIDDEN
Many dope smugglers will go to great lengths to conceal their contraband. What is so funny to the experienced interdiction officer is that they leave obvious tools needed to retrieve the contraband in the silliest of places. I can’t recall the last time I stopped an honest citizen carrying a brand new floor jack and a special tire tool in the front seat of a new Lincoln town car. I can however, recall stopping a drug smuggler, with those tools on the front seat of a new Lincoln that had 160 pounds of marijuana concealed in all four tires of the vehicle! Look for out of place items that don’t fit the rest of the surroundings.
MORE THAN ONE CELL PHONE
Often a drug smuggler will carry multiple cell phones, that all seem to be ringing at once. The smuggler may have a personal cell phone, as well as a cell phone given to him from the origin of the load, a cell phone from the contact near the destination and numerous other middlemen involved in the drug transaction so that they can all keep tabs on the location. Look for this as a possible indicator and question the suspect in detail as to why he has all these phones and use their answers to build reasonable suspicion.
A popular subject to that has been taught in interdiction is the “conflicting stories” that passengers give as to the purpose and destination of their interstate travel. Developing these conflicting stories is paramount in your investigation. By getting the suspect’s to give your intricate details that totally contradict each other not only is an indicator, but a great tool in reasonable suspicion.
THE DRIVER IMMEDIATELY GETS OUT OF THE VEHICLE
This is another post stop indicator that can be a sign of dope trafficking. In this case, the subject is trying to distance himself from something he wants to hide from you. Keep in mind, this indicator can be a sign of something less sinister than drug trafficking, e.g. the subject might be have a weapon in the car, an open beer, etc.. Either way, there is something in the car he is hiding. Just as a side note, if you ask the subject if you can search the car, and he consents but tries to draw you away from where he doesn’t want you to look, then you know the contraband is in a different location than the one they want you to look in. Dead giveaway indicator.
CARS THAT DRIVE UNDER THE SPEED LIMIT
Here is a very easy pre-stop indicator you can start using immediately. Drug traffickers are naturally paranoid and their paranoia will make them do stupid things like drive 10 – 15 miles under the speed limit. drug haulers generally will stay in the “slow lane” as well.
OLDER MODEL CARS THAT ARE IN UNUSUALLY GOOD CONDITION
Often older cars will be used to transport drug loads, however, what sets them apart is that they have been very well maintained mechanically, often have new tires on them and have been washed and cleaned to help blend in with the average citizen’s vehicle.
Keep in mind as you go through this list, an indicator by itself is not enough to be a sign of drug trafficking. However, by observing multiple indicators then you can greatly increase your chances of finding the mother load. I talk more about indicators and reasonable suspicion in my book, Secrets of Successful Highway Drug Interdiction. As always, stay safe and happy hunting.
About the Author
Sergeant Andrew G. Hawkes has over 17 years of law enforcement experience. He has a BA in Criminal Justice and is currently completing his master’s degree in Public