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Putting the brakes on crime

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont.- Times are tough, and the temptation to run a load of contraband across the border may be greater than ever. Opportunities abound for truckers to make a few bucks on the side...


NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont.- Times are tough, and the temptation to run a load of contraband across the border may be greater than ever. Opportunities abound for truckers to make a few bucks on the side by concealing drugs, guns or dirty money inside a legitimate load. So how do you ensure your equipment and employees aren’t being used for illegal purposes?

Const. Paul Webb of the Niagara Regional Police was on-hand at the Private Motor Truck Council’s annual convention in June to offer some advice, and to solicit the assistance of the trucking industry in combating crime.

“No matter how contraband gets into this country, at one time or another it ends up in a motor vehicle,” said Webb, adding police are often uncomfortable dealing with trucks. “When we go to police college, they don’t teach us anything about trucks. We need your help. The more eyes and ears we have out there, the better the chance we’re going to catch these bad guys.”

Generally, the North American drug trade sees marijuana trucked into the US, where in some regions it has a street value comparable to cocaine. Weapons, money and cocaine are usually shipped back north into Canada, Webb explained. In many cases, the contraband is concealed within legitimate loads, which are usually trucked at a discounted rate.

“They need a load -they need something to hide that in, so they’ll lowball rates,”Webb said. “The bad guys are screwing you guys out of money.”

A recent increase in major busts involving tractor-trailers sends mixed messages. It could mean the police are doing a better job of detecting illegal loads. Or it could mean that more contraband is being transported by truck. One thing’s for sure, the recent rash of busts has caused criminals to take more precautions, Webb pointed out, especially when it comes to concealment.

Webb said some people are making a living by installing hidden compartments in highway tractors and false walls and floors in trailers. A false wall can be installed in as little as six hours, he said.

He has also seen cases of criminals loading their tires with dope, attaching it to the rims with C-clamps. Each tire can hide 60-70 lbs of drugs, Webb pointed out, adding a tire that doesn’t make the familiar ‘ringing echo’ when tapped with a hammer should trigger suspicion.

Fleet managers should periodically inspect their vehicles for any signs of modification, advised Webb. Owner/operators as well should be on the lookout for tell-tale signs of illegal activity, said Webb.

He recalled the story of one owner/ op who was pulled over and found to have a hidden compartment in the sleeper. It was discovered that the truck had been involved in a drug bust and then was auctioned off soon after with the compartment still in place -the new owner never even knew the compartment was there.

One of the most common ways to transport contraband is to “pyramid” the load, according to Webb. This involves stacking the load to the roof at the front of the trailer with the bad stuff hidden underneath the legitimate freight. Webb also suggested checking the tops of cardboard boxes to see if they’ve been crushed. If so, that may indicate someone was crawling around on top of the load, which should be cause for further investigation.

“Your legitimate drivers can see this and we want to know about it,” Webb said. He said that about 25% of the time there’s a bust, the driver was not knowingly transporting the contraband. It’s fairly easy for criminals to have their illegal goods transported for them by law-abiding carriers, considering the constant trade-off of trailers within the industry. One trick criminals will use is to call a third-party carrier and ask them to complete the delivery of a load due to a

tractor breakdown. That carrier may unwittingly transport the trailer across the border or to its destination without ever realizing there was contraband on-board. The bad guys will also occasionally steal a trailer, use it to make their delivery, and then return it to the yard it was stolen from without its owner ever realizing it was missing.

Other suspicious signs may include: a lone driver travelling with the sleeper curtain closed; hockey bags in the bunk -but no hockey sticks; a cab with an overpowering scent of air fresheners; bobtailing long distances; and peculiar looking DoT numbers.

Drivers, fleet owners and shippers should also be wary of: illegible signatures on documents; unusual seals; vague destinations; and drivers who don’t know what they’re getting paid to deliver the load.

“It’s common sense,” said Webb. “You guys know your industry, you know what’s not the norm.”

Webb urged attendees to dismiss their preconceived ideas of what a criminal will look like.

“If you’re looking for Cheech and Chong, you’re only going to get user amounts of drugs,” he explained, adding most big-time trafficking is done by more sophisticated criminals. Webb urged fleet managers in attendance to screen their drivers on a regular basis -but more importantly, to encourage them to report suspicious activities to Crimestoppers (or 911 if a crime is in progress).

“Empower your employees to air their concerns,” Webb suggested. “We need help. We can’t do everything on our own. We want to get the illegitimate drivers off the road who are taking money out of your pockets.”

Hopefully, with a little help from the industry, law enforcement can help ensure these criminals end up spending more time behind bars than behind steering wheels.

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‘If you’re looking for Cheech and Chong, you’re only going to get user amounts of drugs.’

Const. Paul Webb


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