Every year, thousands of tons of drugs, stolen property and other contraband are transported thoughout the United States in cars, trucks and commercial vehicles. When you make a traffic stop for an expired tag, how can you recognize if the driver is someone involved in a major criminal enterprise?
That’s where the book Criminal Interdiction comes in. Written by Steven Varnell, the book is a guide to help officers implement many of the strategies I have advocated and successfully used to put criminals in prison.
What Is Criminal Interdiction?
Varnell’s book is based on the premise that virtually all criminal enterprise involves the use of motor vehicles. Whether it is a bank robber fleeing in a car, a burglar carrying his loot in a van or a drug smuggler moving cocaine in a tractor trailer, they are all using the streets and roadways to get around.
If most criminals are in vehicles for at least some portion of their crimes, then it stands to reason that traffic enforcement can be a tool for much more than just writing tickets.
If officers treat each traffic stop as a Terry Stop, which it is, instead of just an opportunity to write a violation, how many more criminals could be caught?
Another book, Tactics for Criminal Patrol, was the gold-standard for interdiction work in the 1990’s, but it went out-of-print. Additionally, some of the court guidelines have changed from when that book was written.
Varnell’s book was published in 2010, and while the author did not pen Tactics for Criminal Patrol, I feel that Criminal Interdiction essentially picks up where Tactics for Criminal Patrol left off.
According to the book, Varnell is a retired Florida Highway Patrol trooper with more than 29 years of service. For the vast majority of that time, he was assigned to the Patrol’s Contraband Interdiction Program. If anyone has the credibility to write a book on interdiction, it would seem Steven Varnell does.
Varnell covers a number of topics including what kinds of violations officers should be watching for, recognizing the behaviors of drivers and occupants, vehicle searches, commercial vehicles, mobile drug labs and more.
The author goes into greater detail in the book, but here are a few locations that I.C.E. (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) has found in recent years:
- contraband hidden in a woman’s wig;
- bags of heroin hidden in teddy bears;
- marijuana concealed in the hollowed out boards of wooden pallets;
- cocaine masked in the soles of shoes;
- marijuana bundles in man-made landscaping stones;
- drugs stashed in the manifold of an engine;
- drugs concealed in new furniture; and
- marijuana hidden in metal cans disguised as food products
In addition, I.C.E. located a lot of drugs being transported inside living people or animals. While you may not be able to see inside a man’s thigh (yes, they have found cocaine surgically implanted there), do pay attention to the unusual transportation of animals.
Often, smugglers will implant large quantities of drugs inside snakes, dogs, or other animals, with the intent to kill the animals and retrieve the dope once they arrive at their destination. PETA and I don’t see eye-to-eye on most things, but this type of drug smuggling is clearly cruel.
One of the best hiding spots I.C.E. officers have discovered was a load of marijuana concealed in the floorboard of a trailer hauling two live bears! Definitely not the day to be the junior officer on scene.
Varnell covers many of the clues you should be looking for when talking to the driver and when examining vehicles and containers.
Varnell talks a lot about officer safety throughout the book, and for good reason. When searching for drugs, human traffickers, gun runners and other criminals, you are coming into contact with some of the most dangerous criminals you are likely to meet.
Additionally, you are working next to the road, where any 16 year old can get a license to drive a 2,500 pound car mere inches or feet from your position.
Varnell blends the criminal interdiction techniques with officer safety ideas throughout. No load of dope is ever worth a police officer’s life.
Varnell’s writing recounts the information to the reader as if you were sitting down having a cup of coffee and talking about police work. Some of the most important “training” I have gotten has been when I was sitting and talking with a veteran cop over a cup of coffee on a cold midnight shift. This book reads a bit like that.
Yes, there are a few more grammar mistakes than in some other books I have read. A ruthless editor could catch those mistakes and tighten up some of the chapters. However, the errors are minor and hardly a distraction from the author’s voice and information.
Criminal Interdiction is a solid primer for any police officer who wants to catch criminals moving themselves and contraband by motor vehicle. The techniques are not limited to rural officers working the Interstate: they work just as well for the city and suburban cops.
I felt that Varnell was holding back specific details in various points in the book that would have helped officers key in on criminal activity. However, I imagine this was done to prevent giving away too much information to the criminal enterprises that do read law enforcement training manuals for intel on how to better run their organizations. I can only imagine the internal debates that Varnell likely had when trying to decide what information to include, and what to exclude.
Do not despair if you feel some information is left out of the book. As it is, the book will get you started down the road of successful criminal interdiction work.
Varnell taught at the Multijurisdictional Counterdrug Task Force Training (MCTFT) in St. Petersburg, FL. Much of the MCTFT training is online and free, meaning you can take online classes and get additional information on interdiction work with the knowledge that these courses are restricted to law enforcement only.
Criminal Interdiction is clear and easy to understand. It offers a lot to the new officer and the veteran cop who wants to start reeling in the big fish. I recommend this book.
I purchased this book with my own money and was not given a “comp” or free version of the book for review. I’ve never met Varnell, so there is no friendship bias that has influenced this review.
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