Higher border fence causes smugglers to go airborne

Posted: Tuesday, September 20, 2011 8:18 am
Updated: 11:16 am, Tue Sep 20, 2011.
By JB Miller

Like a football team with a faltering ground game, drug smugglers are turning to an air attack in an effort to get their product past the new border fence in Nogales.

Lt. Carlos Jimenez of the Nogales Police Department said that due to the increased height and strength of the new barrier, smugglers are having a hard time climbing or cutting through it. As a result, they are coming up with new ways of launching their product over the fence - including tossing football-shaped bundles of marijuana.

"We have seen different shapes and sizes from football-type to large 5-gallon-can-size, cylinder-shaped bundles," Jimenez said.

In one case, a police canine unit responded to the vicinity of East Nelson Avenue on the night of Sept. 9 after someone reported a suspicious amount of car traffic in the area.

An NPD officer checked several parked vehicles and came across a car with fictitious license plates, which "heightened the officer's attention to it," Jimenez said.

"The officer deployed his police canine and the canine alerted to the car interior," Jimenez said. "The car was unsecured and abandoned so when the officer opened the door to the car in plain sight he saw the black football-shape marijuana bundles."

In all, police seized 39 bundles with a total weight of 39.7 pounds and impounded the car.

The incident sparked a series of football-related jokes and puns when Sheriff Antonio Estrada mentioned during the Sept. 14 County Board of Supervisors that NPD had "intercepted" the football-sized bundles.

"There were no receivers," he said after noting that no arrests had been made. As for the smugglers, "Their timing was off," he suggested.

Catapults also suspected

Jimenez said he believes that smugglers are also be using catapult-type devices to launch heavier bundles over the fence.

For example, on the night of Aug. 5, an anonymous caller reported that packages were being thrown over the border fence near Escalada Drive. A few minutes later, as officers were checking out the scene, another anonymous caller reported that there were bundles being heaved over the fence at West International Street.

The officer who responded to Escalada Drive eventually found five "cylinder-shaped" bundles of marijuana with a total weight of 62 pounds - an average of more than 12 pounds each - and NPD asked Border Patrol to use its cameras along the fence in hopes finding the location and device from which the bundles were being tossed. However, no further discoveries or arrests were made.

Meanwhile at West International Street, officers managed to arrest two men and seize five bundles of pot totaling 117 pounds. Several other men reportedly carrying bundles on their backs escaped into Mexico.

While most cases like these are turned over to the Santa Cruz County Metro Task Force, Jimenez said, NPD also shares information with law enforcement on the Mexico side in an effort to catch suspects and contraband.

The new $11.6-million, 2.8-mile border fence, completed this past summer, ranges from 23 to 30 feet in height and is topped by a 5-foot high, south-facing metal sheet to discourage climbers. It's made of six-inch-square metal tubes, filled with concrete with a strand of rebar running down the middle to thwart cutting.

The landing mat fence that it replaced measured approximately 10 feet tall, and was easier to cut through and burrow under.

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