Police officers engaged in drug interdiction quickly learn that experienced dealers and traffickers never drive a car they own when moving their product. Criminals have learned to bypass the asset forfeiture laws by renting a car, and moving the drugs with the leased vehicle. If stopped, the dealer may lose the product, but won’t have lost additional money tied up in a multi-thousand dollar vehicle. Use a third party to lease the rental car, and the dealer has added an additional layer of insulation between him and the dope seized in the stop.
This tactic of using leased property extends beyond the motor vehicle, and observant officers can make an impact on criminal enterprise by watching self-storage facilities.
Self-storage facilities generally offer criminals with a near-ideal location from which they can work or store their products. The facilities often take cash, don’t do background checks, ask few questions, are open 24-hours a day, and, based on how the property is laid out, offer the ability to work out of the view of the casual passerby.
Through the years, police officers have found all sorts of criminal activity lurking inside of an unassuming self-storage facility. Recently, police training classes have talked about the use of a self-storage facility to establish a meth lab. While the threat of methamphetamine production is real, don’t forget about other crimes that can happen in these units:
- storage of drugs
- storage of counterfeit goods
- stolen property
- money that is waiting to be laundered
- the making of bombs for a terrorist attack
- storage of illegal weapons
By way of example, law enforcement officers seized 100,000 Ecstacy tablets in a self storage unit in the Los Angeles area on October 29,2007.
Make contact with the managers of the facilities in your beat. Ask them if they have noticed anything, or anyone, strange on the property. If they are willing to work with you to prevent crime, suggest they pay attention to their renters. If anyone displaying certain common criminal characteristics rents from them, ask them to call you. Some of these common characteristics include:
- paying cash only
- paying for the rental months in advance
- abnormal concerns about privacy
- nervous behavior
- the use of fake or altered ID
- late night trips to the storage unit
- people other than the leasee visiting the unit
None of these characteristics establishes probable cause for criminal activity, but if someone pops up displaying several of these characteristics, they may be worth checking out.
Another thing to request of management is their permission to walk a department K-9 through the common areas of the facility. K-9’s trained to detect drugs and/or bombs may hit on a scent in a common area that will lead you to a specific unit.
Keep your mind and eyes open when patrol around a self storage facility. You never know what you may find.