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Known Drug Courier Profiles, Police
|Highway Drug Courier Profiles in Y2K: Another Nail in the Coffin of the Fourth Amendment?
Diana Patton, Deputy Legal Defender
In recent years, the term "Drug Courier Profile" has been used to describe those involved in the transportation of drugs. As this is accepted terminology in general conversation, it can create legal problems if used in conjunction with a vehicle stop.
Stopping someone because they fit a "Drug Courier Profile" has been referred to as a "reasonable suspicion" or pretext stop. In recent court cases, the courts have had mixed opinions on the legality of detaining someone based on nothing but reasonable suspicion. For this reason, we will not stop someone solely on suspicion that she/he fits a drug courier profile.
Once a vehicle has been stopped for a violation, or within the scope of our duties, the officer should then look for indicators leading him to believe that the person is involved in drug trafficking.
Indicators can be broken down into three categories;
1. Exterior of the vehicle and driving habits.
2. Interior of the vehicle.
3. The driver and/or passengers.
The following is a list of indicators that have been present during numerous seizures by various law enforcement agencies. As additional indicators are discovered, they will be provided to you.
Exterior Indicators to look for:
1. Large or late model cars with large trunks – GM most popular.
a. Intermediate size also used.
b. Occasionally a smaller car will be involved.
2. Older car in top running condition.
3. Vans and pickup trucks with camper tops also commonly used.
4. Tinted or blacked out windows.
5. Numerous radio antennas.
a. CB radios
b. Police scanners.
6. Radar Detectors
7. Vehicles equipped with air shocks that normally wouldn’t have them.
8. Two or more vehicles running in tandem
9. Pulling speed boats with cover
10. Vehicle Registration:
a. Common tags seen are Florida, Texas, Maryland, New York and New Jersey
1) Tags expiring in 1986 (green on white) first alpha character is "Z" for all rental and leased cars
2) After running out, some "Y" plates were issue Ex. ZBC123 or YBC123 or 123ZBC or 123YBC
3) All new plates will be ZBC-12A or YBC-12A
c. New York has same system with 3 alpha followed by 3 or 4 numeric
1) New York has some irregularities as car can be registered in name of leased.
2) Title check needed to confirm
d. Dale County plates seen regularly with cocaine seizures
– Broward County plates seen regularly in marijuana seizures
e. North Carolina starts with "R" for rental vehicles
11. Stickers or decals indicating where the car is from or has been – do they match state of registration?
12. Driving habits often result in the courier being stopped for a routine violation
a. Speeding up and slowing down
b. Scrupulous obedience to traffic laws – overly cautious
c. Erratic driving due to drug or alcohol use
d. Many drive straight through and take drugs to stay awake
e. Take a long time to pull over
13. In order to avoid leaving the vehicle they will often sleep in a rest area
Interior Indicators to look for:
1. Fuzz busters, scanners, and radios if not visible from exterior
2. Road maps or atlas
a. Check for marked route of travel
3. Newspapers indicating where she/he has been
4. Tissues – boxed, or signs or exceptional use
5. Duct Tape – (very common) – Fiberglass material
a. White and gray most common found
6. One or two screwdrivers or isolated wrench laying on floor or in glove box
7. Aerosol cans
a. Check for reverse threading
8. Thermos bottles – can indicate travel as well as be concealed compartment
9. Obvious odor of perfume, deodorizer, or talcum powder
a. Odor of ether or cedar shavings
10. Strong odor of fresh ground coffee
11. Odor of burnt or raw marijuana
12. Roaches in ashtray or residue on roach clips
13. Spare tire in back seat
14. Little or no luggage
a. Hard, air tight such as Samsonite
15. Signs of extensive travel such as carton of cigarettes or other items from out of the area
a. Fast food bags
b. Tax stamp on cigarettes
c. Motel, gas receipts
16. High mileage on new car
17. Service stickers
18. Papers with flight numbers, boat names, bus routes, etc.
19. Address books or phone number lists
20. Business cards
21. Fireworks or souvenirs
22. Citrus fruit
23. One key in ignition or trunk key missing from key ring
24. Pagers in vehicle or on driver
25. Concealed switches to activate compartments
a. Starting to use two screws that will activate by shorting out
a. Back of back seat or seat itself ajar
b. Loose or missing screws in side panels – door panels
1) Loose screws on floor
2) Rivets replacing screws
c. Door jam vent blocked out with tin behind it
d. Trunk area
1) False area between trunk and rear seat very common
2) False floor in trunk or sides of trunk – access may be from under carriage
3) At times requires depth perception to locate
4) Spare tire
5) Spare tire not in factory position
e. Center of steering wheel
f. Side arm rests and arm rests with vinyl backing attached by velcro
g. Rear of front seats and console
h. False gas tanks or false compartments within tank
i. Areas behind wheel wells that are accessible from exterior
j. Propane tanks
k. False areas in camper shells
l. Hollowed out lumber or dry wall
m. Use your imagination !!! The location of a concealed compartment is solely up to the imagination of a courier
1. Driver exits the vehicle rapidly and comes back to the patrol car
2. Often gives signs of fertile behavior or nervousness
3. Many times are or have resided in the Miami area
4. What does a courier look like?
a. Usually between 20-40 years old, average age 32
b. Many unemployed
c. Many don’t fit the vehicle
d. Unshaved appearance
e. Two man teams are common – women and women with children also used
f. Many are immigrants:
4) Some Pakistani’s involved in heroin
5) Immigrants from El Salvador and Nicaragua starting to get involved to fund weapons
5. May have residue of white powder on nose or mustache
6). Will have sniffles if a user
a. Observe nose for lack of nasal hair or redness
b. Very common to find couriers as users
7. Identification for person and vehicle will appear confusing – called two party vehicles
a. Driver license from one state, vehicle registered in another
b. Many cases cars are leased or rented in another name
1) Check additional driver portion of agreement for driver’s name
2) Should be written at time of lease
c. If not rented – most likely driver will not be the owner
1) Will often state first name only of owner or leased
2) State they are just paid to drive it and drop it off or call pagers or phone number
3) Will provide very little information on how to contact owner or will not know
d. Mileage on car compared to mileage at time of rental will be excessive
e. Expensive car with no lien
f. Older car recently transferred from another state
8. May have extensive jewelry, cash, or credit cards on person
9. Itinerary does not fit occupation or amount of luggage in vehicle, etc.
10. Occupant and driver give different routes of travel – should separate
11. Will often deny being in source city
a. May have to observe items in car to determine his departure point
b. Known source states:
1) Florida – Miami
2) Texas – Brownsville, Houston
3) New Jersey – Union City, W. New York, North Bergen
4) Illinois – Chicago
5) Indiana – Gary
6) Massachusetts – Boston
12. They are paid only to drive the vehicle – often contributes to obtaining consent
13. At times may be following or being followed by a "friend" (trailer vehicle).
14. Driver should be monitored for body language while discussing his trip, etc.
a. Will have separate class on how to properly question and evaluate the courier
In addition to the indicators of those transporting drugs, we should also be aware of those items used in the manufacturing of cocaine that might also be found during a stop
1. Large quantity of rubbermaid trash cans
2. Large amount of cheese cloth or coffee filters
3. Multiple microwave ovens
4. Multiple heat lamps
5. Large quantities of mannitol used as cutting agent
a. Dietic drug for kidney analysis
6. Large drums that don’t appear to fit the vehicle
a. Look for labeling, etc.
"Profile" is a bad term to use when referring to your observations of vehicle, driver and contents. Use "indicators".
Conversation with suspect is very important. If you feel you may ask for a consent search keep your conversation casual and non-aggressive.
Prior to asking suspect for a consent search conclude all activity related to your probable cause stop or original contact. This is to include returning all his documents, o.l., registration, citation, etc. The suspect should be ready to leave and there should be the feeling of freedom to leave on his part.
Be extremely cautious and watchful of additional suspect in other vehicles traveling with your suspect.
Recommended policy on a positive consent search is to stop once any contraband has been discovered. Continue after search warrant has been obtained.
The following discussion presents a list of factors categorized under seven topical headings: (1) Reservations and Ticket Purchases; (2) Airports and Flights; (3) Nervousness and Associated Behavior; (4) Significance of Luggage; (5) Companions (Traveled With or Picked Up By); (6) Personal Characteristics; and (7) Miscellany.
DEA agents, without regard to consistency, have testified that the factors discussed under these topical headings form part of the bases on which they decide to detain air travelers. . . .
1. Reservations and Ticket Purchases – In many cases drug agents testify without hesitation that drug couriers seldom make reservations, and that couriers instead prefer to purchase their airline tickets immediately before flight departure time. With no less resolve drug agents testify also that drug couriers often make recent or short-notice reservations. . . .
2. Airports and Flights – When DEA agents first developed the drug courier profile, the "source city" designation became a preeminent profile factor. Drug agents routinely monitored incoming flights from source cities. . . . With little regard for consistency, DEA agents testify that each of the following constitutes a prominent profile factor: (1) Non-stop or direct flights to and from source cities; and (2) Circuitous routes or changing airlines or flights to and from source cities.
3. Nervousness and Associated Behavior – Despite drug agents’ testimony that they can detect "growing nervousness" or tell-tale eyes, there is no uniform or coherent list of profile factors relating to nervousness. Walking quickly is considered a prime behavior factor, but so is walking slowly. Walking in an unusual pattern through the terminal and rushing to the restroom after deplaning appear just as significant as leaving the terminal in a hurried and nervous manner. . . .
4. Significance of Luggage – All air travelers fit at least one of the profile factors regarding the use of luggage. DEA agents deem it significant when air travelers check no luggage. . . . Similarly, DEA agents testify inconsistently regarding the amount of luggage an air traveler carries. Carrying no luggage is as noteworthy as carrying a small tote bag, a medium-size bag, two bulky garment bags, "two apparently heavy-laden suitcases," or four pieces of luggage. . . .
6. Personal Characteristics – Depending on which case is read, a typical drug courier is either a black male, a female, a black female, an Hispanic person, or a young person who may be "sloppily dressed" or "smartly dressed.." . .
7. Miscellany – . . . drug agents treat the following drug courier profile factors with equal significance: being the first, or one of the first, passengers to deplane; being the last passenger to deplane; and deplaning from the middle. By way of further example, making a local telephone call immediately after deplaning constitutes a profile factor, as does making a long-distance telephone call. Similarly, drug agents have testified that leaving the airport by public transportation, especially taxi, private vehicle, limousine, or hotel courtesy van all constitute profile factors.