Drug Smuggling Crackdown

Record-Breaking Drug Seizures South of the Coachella Valley

COACHELLA VALLEY, Calif. - The U.S. Border Patrol is breaking drug seizure records just south of the Coachella Valley.

The El Centro Sector of the Border Patrol seized $95 dollars in drugs in the last fiscal year.3

That's up nearly three times from 2008.

It's a difficult fight. Drug smugglers are getting more creative, using catapults to send drugs over the border. In some cases, they're using ultra light planes that can fly under the radar.

Once the drugs make it into the United States, the fight isn't over.

The Highway 86 checkpoint, near the Salton Sea is another line of defense.

Border Patrol agent Jonathan Creiglow showed us how they catch smugglers and they can be just about anyone.

He says, "There's no specific model for a smuggler. It could be an older woman, a young man or someone from a number of different countries."

At the checkpoint, agents won't say exactly what they're looking for, as they stop some vehicles and wave others through without talking to the driver.

The agents are helped by canines that are trained to sniff out drugs.

We saw one case, where a canine unit alerted to a car. Eventually, the agent put the dog inside the car. The dog alerted to the console in between the seats. The case was solved, when the agent pulled a shelf out of the console and the dog alerted to it.

In this case, no drugs were found. But, the dog confirmed there had been marijuana in the car at some point.

It's an example of just how good the dogs are.

As Crieglow explains, "In this case, the dog was alerting to the object which had marijuana residue."

Residue is all it takes.

Agents also have technology at their disposal. They use something called a Backscatter System. It gives them essentially an X-ray look inside the vehicle.

They scanned our News Channel 3 car, finding a lot of junk on the floor, but nothing that looked like drugs.

It's a real time saver for agents who don't have to tear apart a vehicle, looking for drugs. And, it works.

Agents have used it to find hidden compartments, cocaine in tires, even a truck loaded with $14 million worth of marijuana.

It's important work because most of the drugs that get through the Highway 86 checkpoint will be going through the Coachella Valley.

As Crieglow says, "This is one of the main routes to Los Angeles and that's probably why this checkpoint caught a lot of the drugs in 2011."

Riveside County Sheriff's Department Captain Raymond Gregory is the head of the Coachella Valley Narcotics Task Force, which targets smaller, dealer to customer sales. He says the drug trade continues to be a problem on our local streets, sometimes involving local gangs.

"It's very common for these guys to be involved in the narcotics sales along with other crimes.'"

The work being done at the checkpoint is aimed at cutting off the supply, to make our communities safer.

Agent Creiglow knows it's a tough job, especially when smugglers are motivated by huge payouts.

While drug seizures are at record breaking levels, drug enforcement isn't the top priority for the Border Patrol.

The agency's first mission is to stop terrorists and weapons from coming into the country and stop people from entering the country illegally.

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