LISTEN: More guns seized as security ramped-up at bridges to Canada

Jun 19, 2015

Handgun discovered under vehicle seat.
Credit CBP

With the four international bridges in Buffalo, Niagara Falls, and Lewiston, New York handling 18 million cars and trucks a year, it’s no wonder the front-line officers have stepped up their security game.

Since the beginning of May, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials at the Port of Buffalo say they’ve already seized 18 illegal firearms from Americans and foreigners who are attempting to bring guns into the United States from Canada. On Tuesday, the officers made five seizures of narcotics and a firearm in a 24-hour period.

“The majority of our traffic is legitimate but we have to watch out for that needle in the haystack; those that are trying to do bad things or bring across bad goods through to the United States,” says Rose Hilmey, CBP’s Acting Field Operations Director in Buffalo.

That officer instinct, CBP touts, is thanks to year-round training. In a recent day-long, unprecedented show and tell with media from Canada and the U.S., border officers demonstrated some of the tools they use to be able to make a quick decision during a traveller’s on average 50 second drive through primary inspection points.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers give media an overview of the primary inspection process at Lewiston Bridge.
Credit DAVID G. LONG/CBP

CBP’s multi-layered enforcement approach at any port of entry begins when a traveller drives through a series of radiation portal monitors, which look like short yellow poles on either side of the lane, before arriving at the inspection booth. The monitors can detect any harmful radiation used to make weapons of mass effect that could be stashed inside the vehicle.

License plate readers tell the officer any necessary intelligence on the car. Then there’s Radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology. It’s a wireless electromagnetic field used to transfer data, and in this case it’s used to scan and read a traveller’s NEXUS card or Enhanced Driver’s License.

A sharp eye for detecting imposters with false identification is also key.

“Once I admit you and you drive down the road, I don’t see you again. I don’t get a do over. So I’ve got to be right every time,” says CBP Officer Aaron Bowker.

Every four months, CBP officers get a refresher course on use of force. And that’s on top of the annual training they get in firearms, tasers, and batons.

Although they have these tools, officers insist the idea is to not have to deploy them. Officials could only recall having to fire a gun during an armed robbery at a Duty Free outlet in Lewiston more than a decade ago.

To make their point, agency officials staged several real-life, use-of-force scenarios, the same kind of training that their officers undergo every few months. Bowker said the goal is to prepare officers for any possibility.

“Usually the situations that become a little bit more dangerous are anytime you move somebody. So, the car gets parked in secondary inspection and they’re going inside. Now they know they’ve been stopped. This is where things get a little more serious for the officers as they’re handling it.”

Queenston-Lewiston Bridge crossing.
Credit SASHA-ANN SIMONS/WXXI NEWS

CBP was joined by Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) which presented technologies used on the other side of the border. The two agencies also credit a strong partnership with aiding the gun bust.

“This seizure demonstrates the hard work and perseverance of our law enforcement officers working together to protect our border,” adds CBSA Regional Director, Richard Comerford.

The weapons seized included Smith and Wesson revolvers, a Springfield Armory automatic pistol, a Ruger revolver, as well as Taurus and Glock handguns.

Several of the individuals whose guns were taken were arrested for violating gun laws. 

Watch as a CBP instructor shows me how to fire a practice handgun.

Watch as two CBP officers demonstrate Use of Force in a training scenario.