The John Carman Report

Border Ranger

One of the things that I got involved in while I was in U.S. Customs was participating with our own Military drug interdiction teams and National Guard Units. Some of my responsibilities as a Senior Customs Inspector was to train National Guardsmen in U.S. Customs procedures and to help them to assist us in interdiction programs.

A lot of the duties were considered to be tedious and some of it was "grunt" work, but overall, they helped considerably to take the Inspectors away from the less important duties to the more important duties that required special expertise and experience during special Customs searches.

I would gladly work with any of those fine people again. They helped us in traffic control and assisting in helping with inspections while "assigned to an inspector". Believe me, with all those "Enforcement Blocks" we used to do, we needed to have traffic control and an extra set of eyes to watch for suspicious drivers, abnormal behavior, port runners, and all of the other emergency situations that we might encounter at the border.

They were also taught limited techniques that we used for interdicting narcotics. Sometimes when it was the night shift and you were the only "armed" Customs Inspector at the end of the secondary inspection lot, it was a relief to have a couple of those guys and gals with radios in the right spots in case of safety problems with suspects. It's too bad we couldn't have a few "armed" National Guard units there with us, but that gets into another "legal" problem that I will go into some other time.

They were most effective "between the ports" where they "are" armed and were conducting special reconnaissance for U.S. Customs against "armed" incursions by "armed escorts" coming from Mexican Drug Cartels.(This used to be handled by the Customs Patrol Officers years ago up until around 1984, but were disbanded for funding and other problems).They were later converted to "Special Agents" or "Investigators".

One of the things that the National Guard units did was to assist us in our searches of vehicles and other conveyances at the border. They were "never" meant to work "alone" as they were not "armed" nor were they "sworn" officials. They weren't trained in the intricacies of certain border search authorities and other issues with regards to legal rights in dealing with the Public. That was not their function.

They also provided an invaluable assistance by loading and unloading "seized" narcotics and transporting seized contraband, with armed escorts by caravans, to special locations where it was destroyed by a "Controlled Burn". These "burns" are very time consuming and U.S. Customs can not take the Inspectors away from their more valuable jobs at the Border of interdicting narcotics and other contraband. This would automatically call for the hiring of more men and women which Customs or Congress does not "seem" to want.

I remember a lot of "Dog and Pony Shows" that were put on for the benefit of V.I.P.'s from Customs Headquarters and the other Washington,D.C. bureaucrats. This was to show them what we could do with the additional personnel. We could "facilitate" and "do enforcement" at the same time. We could reduce the "wait time" to less than 20 minutes and still look for contraband. It would be amazing what we could accomplish if we had the proper amount of Customs personnel at each Border Entry Station.

However there is also a lot of politics governing our enforcement actions while we look for narcotics all the time. If there was no traffic "back up", then we were ordered to "back it up" to look for narcotics. This was later somewhat alleviated when the "Block" was properly used. Then you could flush traffic to another location and run the K-9 units around the vehicles with positive results on a regular basis.(Love those dogs!)

There was also a danger of "Port Runners" if there was an open gate to "speed" through. If we had too much traffic, we were suppose to "flush" the traffic by "direct orders" from the Port Director or through the Shift Supervisor.

There was a shift log that we had to record "waiting times" for each of the lanes that were open. This way, we could measure the processing rates of each Inspector and we could compute the volume of traffic and the processing rates to calculate for different statistics for the Port Director so he could "explain" why there was over a 30 minute wait time of traffic to enter the United States. When the wait time came to over 45 minutes to one hour, then management made everyone tense. Either there were some complaints from the public about waiting too long in line, or the drug cartels were worried that their loads weren't going to make it through! You never know.

I have a lot of respect for these National Guardsmen that we worked with and they were held to a very high standard like we were. They got drug tested regularly and they had to meet with certain fitness reports and requirements. They also had to be "dedicated" to assist us in the job that we did. I only wish we had similar compliance by our own Customs Inspectors and Agents too.

One narcotics seizure that I was personally involved in at Otay Mesa in late January 1995, just happened to be the same day that the U.S. Customs Commissioner George J. Weise was coming to "dedicate" the new "drive thru" X-Ray machine which was installed next door at the Otay Mesa Commercial Facility. This is where we could utilize the aid of a X-Ray machine for those hard to find places on a vehicle. Sometimes, as in my drug seizure, it was merely to confirm the load and to give "credit" for assistance in the seizure. This is a common procedure even for the K-9's too. This is whether the Inspector finds it first or not. It is also a valuable tool to let new "rookie" K-9's dogs to train on.

Anyway, I was assigned to the International Airport at Brown Field. I was walking through Customs Secondary when I noticed a National Guardsman at an "occupied" pickup truck marked for "inspection for Customs". Since I knew the procedures, I wanted to make sure that this inspection was done properly and with "Customs supervision". Otherwise, we could "lose" a narcotics seizure for legal technicalities. As I started to process the inspection, I discovered that the driver became "visibly nervous" and the door panels were "solid" in this old vintage pickup truck. The immigration documents were also a "giveaway" to further advance the Customs search when there were problems with the "entry documents". A subsequent search revealed marijuana packages in the door panels. After I confirmed the packages, I escorted the driver to the patdown office. The driver's documents were "altered" and I had some paperwork to do. There was approximately 85 pounds of marijuana. Nice load for 0630 in the morning. If the National Guardsman tried to search without a Customs Inspector, we might have "lost" the entire seizure/arrest.

It must be noted that the other Senior Customs Inspector that could have gotten credit for that seizure, "walked away" to do something else and left the "unarmed" National Guardsman all by himself. That is what caught my attention. That same Senior Customs Inspector even tried to get credit for the seizure after I was the one who started and completed the inspection. He had no involvement at all in that seizure. Later there was a lot attention from the Customs Commissioner George J. Weise and the rest of local management in San Diego because of my seizure. It was perfect timing because of the dedication of the "new X-Ray machine was taking place later that morning while I was doing my paperwork to the seizure. I later got pictures of the incident.

If it wasn't for that "dedicated" National Guardsman staying with the vehicle when I walked by, the driver may have tried to leave. He also knew the procedures I taught him and he told me how the other Inspector just up and left him by himself.(Bad Safety Procedures!)

That same Senior Inspector that left the National Guardsman by himself was later promoted to a Supervisory position as a Supervisory Customs Inspector. (he was later caught stealing a bicycle from a "seized vehicle") He is still a Supervisory Customs Inspector today! Another success story!

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