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Department of Homeland Security Partners with State, Local, Territorial, and Tribal Law Enforcement to Counter Transnational Drug Trafficking

Submitted by the Department of Homeland Security Office of Counternarcotics Enforcement, Washington, D.C.

large portion of the illicit drugs that harm America’s health and burden the nation’s criminal justice system originate from outside of the United States. For this reason, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS’s) efforts to stop the entry of illicit drugs into the United States are vital to protecting the homeland and national security.

DHS plays a critical role in protecting the homeland against a broad range of threats. One of the department’s missions is to interdict and investigate drug smuggling into the United States. DHS collaborates with other federal and foreign law enforcement agencies in fulfilling its counternarcotics responsibilities. In fiscal years 2009 and 2010, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) seized more than $282 million in illegal currency, more than 7 million pounds of drugs, and more than 6,800 weapons along the Southwest border of the United States—increases of more than $73 million, more than 1 million pounds of drugs, and more than 1,500 weapons compared to 2007 and 2008.1 DHS also works closely with its state, local, and tribal law enforcement partners on investigations of transnational crimes and provides training that supports counternarcotics investigations.

The annual economic cost associated with drug trafficking and drug abuse is estimated at approximately $200 billion.2 This includes the costs associated with the justice system, the health-care system, lost productivity, and environmental destruction. More significantly, the toll of drug abuse on states, communities, and families is measured in the number of lives affected. Road safety provides an example of the impact that drug use has on law enforcement. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s 2007 National Roadside Survey reported that more than 11 percent of weekend, nighttime drivers tested positive for illicit drugs. Drugged driving increases the likelihood of accidents and injuries. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, one study found that about 34 percent of motor vehicle crash victims admitted to a Maryland trauma center tested positive for “drugs only” and an additional nearly 10 percent tested positive for alcohol and drugs.3 This study represents one geographic location, so findings cannot be generalized.

Drug trafficking and drug use place huge burdens on law enforcement agencies from rural communities to urban centers and from the interior of the country to the nation’s borders and beyond. The impact on state and local law enforcement can be seen in data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report. In 2009, the Uniform Crime Report estimates that more than 1.6 million arrests—more than 12 percent of all arrests—were reported for drug abuse violations. Of this total, 17.5 percent—more than one out of every six—were arrests for the sale or manufacture of drugs. It is important to note that most of the people involved in the distribution and sale of illicit drugs are part of highly organized, well-funded transnational criminal organizations that control a vast majority of the production and distribution of illicit drugs in the United States.

In recognition of the importance of state, local, territorial, and tribal law enforcement to the national effort, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano hosts quarterly conference calls with sheriffs and police chiefs from 30 jurisdictions along the Southwest border to discuss the department’s ongoing support of law enforcement. In her December 2010 call, Secretary Napolitano underscored the vital role played by state and local law enforcement agencies in securing the U.S.-Mexico border and emphasized DHS’s commitment to working with law enforcement to confront ongoing border challenges. Secretary Napolitano also highlighted critical DHS programs that assist state, local, territorial, and tribal law enforcement in making their communities safer.

Many DHS components directly or indirectly support counternarcotics activities. Figure 1 highlights the eight components with the most significant counternarcotics-related responsibilities and provides an overview of each component’s contributions to the department’s counternarcotics efforts.

In late 2009, Secretary Napolitano reinvigorated the DHS Counternarcotics Coordinating Council, an entity chartered to ensure unity of effort in the department’s counternarcotics mission. Led by the director of the office of counternarcotics enforcement, the council comprises DHS components with counternarcotics responsibilities and is tasked with the following responsibilities:

  • Consider and address counternarcotics issues affecting DHS.
  • Address the adequacy of resources for narcotics interdiction efforts.
  • Assist in the development, the coordination, and the implementation of counternarcotics strategies, policies, and counternarcotics doctrine.
  • Assist in counternarcotics resource identification and allocation throughout DHS.
  • Identify and address areas where greater cooperation among DHS components can better achieve national drug control objectives.

In June 2010, Secretary Napolitano released the Department of Homeland Security Counternarcotics Doctrine, which lays out the department’s fundamental principles about how to conduct effective counternarcotics operations. This seminal document serves to influence and guide the way DHS develops policy and plans, structures and employs its forces, and procures resources. One of the basic principles or tenets of the document states that DHS will collaborate with and support its federal, state, local, territorial, and tribal partners. According to the doctrine,

The impact of illicit drugs is seen most directly and most immediately at the state, local, and tribal levels, and it is the law enforcement entities, medical professionals, and community leaders at those levels who are obliged to act on a day-to-day basis to directly address this problem. As a result of their day-to-day direct exposure to drug traffickers, the state, local, and tribal LEAs [law enforcement agencies] generally possess the best and most current understanding of how traffickers are operating and what is required to defeat them. Hence, we must support, nurture, and enhance these LEAs’ ability to execute their mission. DHS will aggressively act to bring state, local, and tribal counternarcotics law enforcement entities into a full partnership with the federal counternarcotics enterprise.4

Both the Counternarcotics Coordinating Council and Department of Homeland Security Counternarcotics Doctrine help to ensure that the department’s counternarcotics efforts are properly resourced. In support of the doctrine, DHS is leveraging the capabilities of state, local, territorial, and tribal law enforcement agencies through task forces and other partnerships.

The following are examples of successful DHS counternarcotics cooperation with state, local, territorial, and tribal law enforcement agencies:

Operation Firewall. ICE is taking a lead role in combating the smuggling of large quantities of U.S. currency. Operation Firewall targets the full array of methods used to smuggle bulk cash, including commercial and private passenger vehicles, commercial airline shipments and passengers, and pedestrians crossing U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada. ICE and CBP partner to combat bulk cash smuggling at U.S. ports of entry. In the U.S. interior, ICE works with state and local partners to identify and intercept smuggled bulk cash shipments being transported along domestic interstate highways.

Bulk Cash Smuggling Center (BCSC). The establishment of the BCSC by ICE provides resources to identify, disrupt, and dismantle criminal organizations profiting from financial crime. The BCSC has provided federal, state, local, territorial, and tribal law enforcement agencies, as well as worldwide partners, with a single, dedicated central source for information to support interdiction and disruption efforts aimed at the illicit movement of proceeds generated through criminal activity.

Operation Stonegarden. DHS has increased the funds state, local, and tribal law enforcement can use to combat border-related crime through Operation Stonegarden—a DHS grant program designed to support state, local, and tribal law enforcement efforts along the border. Based on risk, cross-border traffic and border-related threat intelligence, 82 percent of 2009 and 2010 Operation Stonegarden funds went to Southwest border states.

Border Enforcement Security Task Forces (BESTs). Since 2005, ICE and its DHS partners have addressed crossborder crimes and associated violence by leveraging federal, state, local, territorial, and foreign law enforcement resources in an intelligence-driven effort to identify, disrupt, and dismantle organizations that seek to exploit vulnerabilities in the border and threaten the overall safety and security of the American public through BESTs. BESTs provide a colocated environment for immediate and enhanced information sharing, as well as an expedited response to strategic intelligence information. To date, there are 21 established BEST teams comprising more than 350 members representing more than 80 federal, state, local, territorial, and foreign law enforcement agencies who actively work jointly with ICE in a variety of capacities to investigate transnational criminal activity along our shared borders. State, local, and territorial law enforcement representatives from more than 50 departments constitute 28 percent of the overall BEST participants. These state, local, and territorial law enforcement representatives actively conduct criminal investigations and contribute invaluable intelligence of the local area of operation to target the criminal organizations engaged in smuggling activity.

Title 19 Cross-Designation Program. As part of a force-multiplier approach, ICE is authorized under Title 19 of U.S. Code § 1401 to cross-designate other federal, state, local, territorial, tribal, and foreign law enforcement officers to investigate and enforce customs laws. A Title 19 cross-designated officer has the authority to execute and serve search or arrest warrants, subpoenas, and summonses in compliance with customs laws. These cross-designated law enforcement officers also have the authority to conduct customs searches at the border for merchandise being imported into or exported from the United States, carry out seizures and arrests of persons or articles in violation of U.S. law; and carry firearms in compliance with the ICE firearms policy. To date, ICE has cross-designated more than 2,500 officers.

Marine Unified Command (MUC). In the San Diego, California, maritime region, CBP has entered into a tactical, unified command structure with other federal, state, and local marine law enforcement agencies to address the small vessel smuggling threat. This unified command structure, MUC, brings together the limited marine resources of the CBP and the other MUC partners and attempts to address the maritime smuggling threat in a coordinated and systematic manner. The MUC has been very successful in interdicting small vessels containing narcotics and illegal aliens coming from Mexico.

The Joint Harbor Operations Center (JHOC). The JHOC in San Diego, California, is a multiagency command center with a mandate to coordinate maritime law enforcement operations within its area of responsibility along the Southwest border. Located at the Coast Guard Sector San Diego, the JHOC is manned with USCG, CBP, and U.S. Navy personnel. Oversight of the JHOC is provided by the Maritime Unified Command, which is chaired jointly by the USCG and the CBP and includes members from the Maritime Task Force (which is an ICE-centric DHS and Department of Justice task force); the U.S. Navy Third Fleet, the Joint Task Force-North; and local law enforcement including the California State Parks Enforcement, the San Diego Police Department (PD), the San Diego Harbor PD, the San Diego Sheriff, the Carlsbad PD, the Coronado PD, and the Oceanside PD.

In addition to coordination with state, local, territorial, and tribal law enforcement agencies on interdiction operations and investigations, DHS provides a broad range of training programs to support state, local, campus, and tribal law enforcement counternarcotics efforts. The following are examples of some of the training programs funded and available through the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center’s Rural Policing Institute and the Office of State and Local Training. These programs are tuition-free to qualified participants and preference for admission is given to nonfederal law enforcement officers. Additional information is available at These programs illustrate DHS’s commitment to enhancing counternarcotics training and intergovernmental collaboration.

The Drug Law Enforcement Training Program. This two-and-a-half-day program provides law enforcement officers with the most current information regarding enforcement strategies and responses applicable to a variety of drug crimes that may occur in their jurisdictions. The program focuses on investigating and prosecuting drug crimes by patrol, interdiction, and drug task force officers; and developing enforcement strategies to counter criminal trafficking patterns.

Looking Beyond the Ticket. This course provides information on the common criminal characteristics of individuals who are involved in the illegal transportation and distribution of illicit drugs and the appropriate strategies to interdict traffickers and advance drug investigations. This course is dynamic in its delivery to allow for open questioning and review of multiple dash camera videos of real traffic stops to better prepare officers to describe various indicators of criminal activity.

Drug-Endangered Children Investigation Program. This program provides investigators with the tools necessary to collect, preserve, and present evidence to prosecutors to prove the crime of felony child abuse and neglect. This course is specifically designed to assist law enforcement officers in recognizing the evidence of a crime, collecting and preserving evidence, understanding the careful methodology required for forensic interviews of children, presenting judicial authorities with the specific components required to obtain a search and an arrest warrant, and completing required documentation to substantiate child abuse in a drug environment. Drug-endangered children investigations fall under the purview of a federal mandate and support the National Drug Control Strategy.

DHS also provides numerous other training opportunities and is involved in other collaborative efforts with state, local, territorial, and tribal law enforcement agencies. DHS values its relationships with its law enforcement partners and welcomes opportunities to expand its interactions on counternarcotics issues, such as drug interdiction, bulk currency, and weapons smuggling. ■

For additional information on opportunities for counternarcotics training or collaboration with DHS, please contact
  • DHS Counternarcotics Efforts: Grayling G. Williams, Director, Office of Counternarcotics Enforcement, 202-447-5800
  • State and Local Law Enforcement: Gary Schenkel, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Office of State and Local Law Enforcement, 202-282-8812
  • Training Opportunities: Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, State and Local Law Enforcement Agency Training, 800-743-5382


1U.S. Customs and Border Protection, “CBP Announces Arizona Joint Field Command,” press release, February 7, 2011, (accessed August30, 2011).
2U.S. Department of Justice, National Drug Intelligence Center, The Economic Impact of Illicit Drug Use on American Society, April 2011; and U.S. Department of Justice, National Drug Intelligence Center, National Drug Threat Assessment 2010, February 2010.
3National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “NIDA InfoFacts: Drugged Driving,” December 2010, (accessed August 17, 2011).
4Department of Homeland Security Counternarcotics Doctrine (June 2010), 7, (accessed August 17, 2011).

Please cite as:

Department of Homeland Security Office of Counternarcotics Enforcement, "Department of Homeland Security Partners with State, Local, Territorial, and Tribal Law Enforcement to Counter Transnational Drug Trafficking," The Police Chief 78 October 2011): 104–110.

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From The Police Chief, vol. LXXVIII, no. 10, October 2011. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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