Inspector Scores Quick Return on Training Investment

By Patrick Martin, Supervisory Customs Inspector/Class Coordinator U.S. Customs Today, August 2000 (Excerpts)

Michael Phillips, who recently graduated from the Basic Inspector Training Course at the U.S. Customs Service Academy, wasted little time in putting acquired skills to use in the field. Little did he know that within hours of donning his uniform for the first time, he would be involved in a five-pound heroin seizure.

Phillips immediately departed the Training Center for his duty station at Atlanta International Airport. Mysterious bulges, inappropriate clothing

On one particular flight, Inspector Phillips gave all passengers an extra level of scrutiny because it had originated from a narcotics source country. With his new inspector title literally only hours old, Phillips noticed that a female passenger on the flight looked particularly bulky around her midsection. She was also wearing a blazer, which caught Phillips' attention because of the warm climate from which she had departed, as well as the warm Atlanta weather.

Phillips' newly-acquired training and natural instincts led him to suspect that passenger was using the blazer as a concealment device. As he began to question the traveler, his suspicions grew stronger.

She claimed to be destined for a one-week visit with a friend in New York, yet could provide no details about the friend beyond his first name. She also said that she would be staying at a hotel, but had no reservations. Phillips thought it unusual that she would not be staying with the friend. She claimed to be employed as a travel agent, but was unable to answer basic questions about information on her airline ticket.

Nonverbal clues mount up

As Phillips questioned the passenger, she became increasingly nervous. Her voice began to tremble, she began to fidget, and she no longer made eye contact with him. Inspector Phillips felt that further examination would be productive, so he referred the passenger to secondary, where she was asked to remove the blazer.

Bulges under the woman's blouse were quite apparent. A patdown--authorized and performed by a supervisor -- was positive. The supervisor authorized a partial body search, which revealed a girdle containing rows of pellets which tested positive for heroin, with a combined weight of 2.2 kilograms. The heroin was seized and the passenger was arrested.

When Inspector Phillips heard the results of the personal search, he was already back at the checkpoint, trying to ferret out other smugglers. He responded with a broad smile of satisfaction.

"Inspector Phillips knew, as do all graduates of the Customs Academy, that we're not 'guessing' when we perform a personal search on a passenger," says Robert Olson, assistant director for Field Operations Training. "The inspector must present the supervisor with sufficient articulable facts that will lead the supervisor to believe there is a good chance that the passenger has possession of contraband.

Copyright © 2000 by U.S. Customs Department

Copyright © 1998 - 2002 (David B. Givens/Center for Nonverbal Studies)

Detail of photo by Robert Frank (Mabou Winter Footage, 1977); copyright by Robert Frank

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