10 possible indicators of drug concealment

By Andrew Hawkes
Author of Secrets of Successful Highway Drug Interdiction
Part II of a 2-part series; Part I: 7 habits of highly unsuccessful interdiction officers

In today's drug-smuggling world, highway drug traffickers are constantly attempting to think of new and 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. We've learned the tricks of the trade through thousands of narcotic interdiction arrests by skilled interdiction officers all over the country. 

Here, I outline 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.

  1. Masking odors
    We have all heard of highway drug smugglers attempting to use large amounts of air freshener in their vehicles. Not only can you look 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 been sprayed just prior or during your traffic stop?

    (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

    Is there a large bag of scented pipe tobacco opened, lying 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, yet not rolling down the windows. These are all examples of masking the odor on the surface. 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.

  2. Law enforcement stickers and slogans
    Most officers know that the “State Troopers Association” stickers you see on vehicle are mailed to random people, and the groups who solicit money on their behalf are not always associated with any law enforcement entity. Most experienced officers know that cars they stop with these stickers seldom belong to anyone in law enforcement. When you stop or see vehicle traveling across many states with an abundance of these stickers, be aware: they'll often put these stickers all over their vehicles, thinking they'll come across as officer-friendly.

  3. Religious paraphernelia
    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.

  4. 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:

    The author, Andrew Hawkes, shown here with a fresh haul of marijuana, is an interdiction officer in Texas.

    1. Is the driver of the car listed on the rental agreement?
    2. If not, is the person listed on the rental agreement even in the vehicle?
    3. Can the driver give you specific details as to who is on the rental agreement and his relationship to this person?
    4. Does the name listed on the rental agreement show to have a criminal history?
    5. What city and state was the rental car rented in and what distance is that from where you have the vehicle stopped?
    6. What day and time was the rental car rented and how much time has lapsed since then?
    7. 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?

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