Article by Nick Zettell. Art by Arina Shabanova
“It’s a drug dog. Not a peanut butter dog,” said the uniformed brute from behind the stereotypical pair of aviators. “Its job is to smell for drugs. That’s what it does.” With my eyes I am screaming at my friend, Derek, for talking back to the omnipotent officer guiding her beagle around his Subaru Outback. I am still unsure what about his car alerted the dog’s senses, but it was damn certain it was not the peanut butter cookies we bought with our lunch. Without picking up on my hint, he continues to bemoan the standard and terrifying procedure: “Aww man, you’re getting dog hair in my car!” With a quick and authoritative response of “None of that ‘aww man’ stuff! You’re in my house now.” The realization that we were not in Michigan anymore and were at an international crossing point did a better job at shutting Derek up than I did. Somehow that ‘drug dog’ must moonlight as a ‘Subway sandwich dog’ because just before we were determined to be of no threat, the hound went straight for our lunches; peanut butter cookies and all.
If nothing else, my experience crossing the US-Canadian Border last summer taught me that Border Patrol takes themselves just as seriously on the Northern Border as they do down South. This much is true between Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario. The Ambassador Bridge is a privately owned border crossing between Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario and serves as the porter for nearly a quarter of United States-Canadian trade. The Ambassador Bridge is also the most direct land route to many parts of America. Just north of the Ambassador Bridge is the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel. These highways are the first and second busiest United States-Canada land crossings, respectively. For residents of North America’s 4th most populous city, Toronto, these crossings represent the most direct land route to any state West of Ohio.
The security at the border is not unwarranted. A review from 2013 shows that the Ambassador Bridge leads Canada’s land crossings in amount of cocaine seized. Virtually all cocaine crossing the US Border into Canada is cocaine which U.S. Customs and Border Protections (CBP) failed to interdict. While cocaine is not exclusively grown in the South and Central Americas, it is almost exclusively grown outside of the United States of America. When taking into consideration the fact that the USA is the largest consumer of cocaine in the world, it is not hard to imagine just how lucrative the smuggling trade must be. Geographically speaking, the Ambassador Bridge and the Tunnel are located at the main crossing point between the US-Mexico border and the two most populous provinces in Canada: Ontario and Quebec. For this reason, the Northern Border Patrol serves as a proxy to their Southern brethren. In part, with reference to drugs and immigrants, their job is not just to make sure illicit entries do not slip through the cracks, but also to ensure that whatever made it into this country illegally does not make it out undetected.
Rampant media consideration given to action across the Southern Border typically leaves the Northern Border coverage to the local media near the points of entry. Are there significant ways in which these factions operate differently from those in the South? A significant majority of drugs and illegal immigrants come across the land crossings in the South, how much are we letting in from the North, and furthermore, how much are we letting through to Canada?
Just over a decade young, the U.S. Customs and Border Protections (CBP) was formed in 2003 through combination of The U.S. Border Patrol and the Office of Field Operations. The undertaking of this Department of Homeland Security (DHS) constituent agency was spurred without doubt response to September 11th, and the CBP quickly became the largest law enforcement agency in the U.S. 21,370 agents and a handful of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) constitute the Border Patrol and are thus tasked with securing more than 8,000 miles of American land border. The U.S.-Canada border comprises 13 states totaling approximately 5,500 miles (8,891 km) making it the longest international border in the world. This takes into account the Alaskan-Canadian Border and makes up roughly one half of the United States’ total perimeter which includes the Mexican border and the much harder to define shoreline. Despite the immense size of the U.S.-Canadian Border, only about 2,000 Border Patrol agents are stationed in the North, opposed to the 18,000 patrolling in the South.
Given that disparity, and a recent statement made in 2010 by the Government Accountability Office that only 32 miles of the U.S.-Canadian Border is under an acceptable level of operational security, we can assume that CBP agents per mile is not a functional measure of security. How should the success of the agency be measured? What types of metrics are used to gauge border performance? For all practical purposes, it is impossible to know exactly how much illicit activity occurs across U.S. borders. Statistics regarding border performance metrics need to be analyzed within relation to other statistics and within context. For example, if the amount of an illicit drug seized this year is greater than the amount of the same substance seized last year, we cannot accurately determine whether CBP has become more effective at interdicting this substance or if Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) are the ones becoming more effective.
The recently appointed Commissioner of the CBP is none other than Gil Kerlikowske, former Director of the Office of the National Drug Control Policy. Nominated by President Obama in August of 2013, Kerlikowske was shortly thereafter confirmed as a permanent fixture to this post. As the gatekeeper of trade with Canada, Commissioner Kerlikowske is tasked with maintaining and facilitating billions of dollars worth of trade while ensuring security for both nations. This means that not only is our physical security being managed by the CBP, but our economic security as well. Fortunately, Kerlikowske is no stranger to our trade ports with Canada. Before heading the ONDCP, the Commissioner has served as police chief in border city Buffalo, NY as well as Seattle, WA, in close proximity to the border. While Commissioner Kerlikowske has outlined his plans for the U.S.-Canadian Border in the CBP’s Vision and Strategy 2020. The main tenets of his plan are to beef up security while facilitating trade and he hopes to accomplish as much by emphasizing the importance of information as well as information exchange with Canada.
There are a host of metrics necessary to gain an accurate understanding of the intricacies of CBP’s efficacy. An important metric used is known as the ‘effectiveness rate’ and measures the Border Patrol’s success at apprehending known illicit cross border activity. The three results from an illegal entry are either an apprehension of the subject, turning back of the subject, or the success of the subject in getting away. The formula for the effectiveness rate is the sum of apprehensions + turn backs divided by the total number of apprehensions + turn backs =getaways. There are several issues with this metric alone. It is typically only used in areas characterized as ‘high activity’ which includes urban environments and high traffic areas. This also only measures “known illicit cross border activity,” which greatly limits the scope and accuracy of the actual effectiveness being measured.
To identify the effectiveness of specific operations over time, the Border Patrol records the average daily apprehensions in each corridor. This data will allow them to identify areas of focus and to apprehend the same individual several times in a single shift.
Recidivism, or the annual percentage of subjects who were apprehended on more than one occasion during a specific period, is also critical data for identifying whether apprehensions or turn backs are effective in deterring future attempts at illegal entry. The problem with this is that it is not entirely uncommon for the same person to be apprehended several times in one shift, according to 2012-2016 Border Patrol Strategic Plan. Commissioner Kerlikowske seems to understand this and hopes to streamline data sharing as a form of communication between the U.S., Mexico and Canada. If implemented properly, this could allow for a proper collaborative effort in interdicting TCOs and also give us better and broader data for the future to properly identify the ways our country’s borders are protected and the ways in which they are threatened