Trending Topics

Highway interdiction: It’s not just about drugs anymore

Don’t overlook the stack of debit or gift cards in a vehicle — those could contain thousands of dollars in drug money that the smuggler hopes you’ll overlook

It’s true that highway drug interdiction has always, and will always be a very dangerous, high-risk part of law enforcement. Traffic stops in general are one of the most unpredictable aspects of our job, but add a criminal with 100 pounds of dope in the car that knows he’s getting pulled over during his interstate drug haul, and the risk goes up even more.

Seems that back in the early 70s and 80s, when interdiction officers were really beginning to establish highway drug interdiction as an integral part of law enforcement, little more than worrying about drugs came into play. Sure we came across wanted felons and guns too, but today’s highway interdiction officer has much more he may come across in his or her quest for the mother load of dope.

Now we have homeland security threats such as cache of weapons being smuggled, human trafficking is at an unprecedented level, which includes illegal immigrant trafficking and sex trade trafficking. Coming across 50 kilos of methamphetamine is just as common as 50 keys of coke or weed now days. Interstate identity thieves traveling with digital evidence on laptops and scores of counterfeit documents, IDs, credit cards, checks, etcetera, make it that much more essential for a interdiction officer to be knowledgeable to all of these mules, whatever their choice of contraband may be.

With ever-increasing lighter sentences for the dope mules, their fear or anticipation in being caught is decreasing, and their will to flee or fight is increasing. It is up to the knowledge and skill of the interdiction officer to know what he has when he sees it to be able to affect an arrest.

I remember in the early 90s a traffic stop I had come across. I was used to finding large, hidden stashes of cocaine and marijuana, but sometimes I remember having come across a traffic stop where all the indicators where there, I just couldn’t find the dope. Years later, after seeing and experiencing the surge in new and different types of crime, some of those stops back in the day that I couldn’t seem to figure out are now as plain as day.

Back in 1992 I had no real idea what Anhydrous Ammonia was, much less if it was used to make meth and even more so what it was carried in. I wouldn’t give to thoughts to wandering what was stored on a computer in a vehicle, because I knew there wasn’t 10 pounds of week hidden in it so I didn’t pay much mind to it.

In today’s interdiction however, a laptop could hold the information to an entire international drug ring or smuggling operation, or could hold information to solve missing persons, thefts, murders, you name it.

Even drug currency being smuggled may have a new face. Finding $100,000 wrapped in aluminum foil is still a great adrenaline rush, but don’t overlook the stack of debit or gift cards in a vehicle — those could contain thousands of dollars in drug money that the smuggler hopes you’ll overlook.

When working highway interdiction remember one thing, you may be looking for dope, but you may just come across something just as rewarding. Always stay up to speed on all types of crimes that could be trending on the interstates, because the more aggressive you are, the greater the range of criminal activity you are going to come across.

As always, stay safe and happy hunting.

Lt. Hawkes is a 23-year police veteran. In addition to his years of highway drug interdiction, Lt. Hawkes has worked in patrol, K9, investigations, narcotics, and administration. He holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Dallas Baptist University and is a graduate of the Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas. He is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Justice Leadership and Administration from the University of Texas at Dallas. He has been the recipient of both State and Local awards, including the Medal of Valor. His book, Secrets of Successful Highway Interdiction, which can be purchased here, contains eleven chapters on Highway Drug Interdiction.