TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - To help reduce smuggling of drugs and people and in alignment with Governor Doug Ducey's commitment to public safety, Arizona Department of Transportation officers at commercial ports of entry in eastern and western Arizona are using the agency's first K-9 units.
Between December and May, the two K-9 units, based at the Interstate 10 Ehrenberg Port of Entry near California and the Interstate 40 Sanders Port of Entry near New Mexico, have helped officers seize in excess of 350 pounds of marijuana, 600 vials of hash oil and $90,000 in illicit bulk currency. They have inspected hundreds of vehicles and aided other law enforcement agencies on dozens of occasions.
"Protecting public safety is the No. 1 responsibility of state government," Governor Ducey said. "We're committed to making sure law enforcement agencies, including the highly trained officers keeping watch at our commercial ports of entry, have the resources they need to combat drug trafficking and human smuggling."
The units are part of ADOT's Enforcement and Compliance Division, which enforces laws involving commercial vehicle safety and permits, registration and driver's license fraud, and unlicensed auto dealers, among other areas.
While conducting safety inspections of commercial vehicles, ADOT officers occasionally discover apparent criminal activity that includes smuggling of drugs, cash, weapons and people. At the I-40 Topock Port of Entry alone, ADOT officers have seized 686 pounds of marijuana, 21 pounds of methamphetamine and 53 pounds of cocaine since 2014.
"This is a matter of highway safety," ADOT Director John Halikowski said. "Our officers, along with the Arizona Department of Public Safety and local law enforcement agencies, find illegal drugs and cases of human smuggling on our highways. Adding K-9s where we are already screening commercial vehicles makes us a more capable and effective team."
The K-9s, both of the Belgian Malinois breed, are trained to detect illegal drugs and human cargo. From their bases in Ehrenberg and Sanders, the units work at interstate ports of entry along the California and New Mexico state lines.
The pilot program to obtain and train both K-9s cost $29,000.
Officers with ADOT's Enforcement and Compliance Division also investigate fraud involving driver licenses and vehicle titles and assist other law enforcement agencies when requested.