Contraband - NZ Customs

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Black money boosts border

Black money boosts border

We’re identifying more drugs faster, more easily and safely. This has also sped action against drugs importers and analysing new border trends. What a great scheme that criminals can count themselves accountable for!

Last year, Customs used criminals’ own money, under the Government’s proceeds of crime scheme, to enhance its frontline screening capabilities at the border. A handheld drug analyser was bought for the International Mail Centre, and an on-site lab was built at a Customs’ facility in Auckland.

Customs Manager for Cargo Operations Bruce Berry explains how this money taken from criminals has boosted border protection and the results to date.

“The portable analyser, FirstDefender, is now the top testing tool used to target suspicious substances coming in through mail. Using this fantastic device has made it faster, easier and safer to check packages. We’re identifying drugs in seconds at the press of a button.

“The beauty of this device is that its laser beam penetrates through certain packaging, so they often don’t even need to be opened. This saves a lot of time, so officers are able to spend more time on screening more packages.”

In six months, FirstDefender has been used for over 3200 tests, with more than 1200 substances, or around 40%, indicating the presence of drugs -- cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, ecstasy, hashish, cannabis and khat – and the list goes on.

“You’ll also be surprised at many of the other things sent in through mail too – some can be potentially volatile or toxic, so being able to test it safely is a very real and positive safety benefit for our teams.”

Bruce says many substances turn out to be legitimate, but this is great too as Customs is able to clear those parcels without causing unnecessary delays.

FirstDefender finds matches against its library of around 11,000 illicit and legitimate substances. If it doesn’t find an exact result, a sample is sent for testing at the screening lab

The Institute of Environmental Science & Research (ESR) manages the lab for Customs. Samples from cargo, mail, and airports are sent in to resident scientists for tests.  Bruce says substances are now identified in minutes or a few days, instead of taking weeks.

“The quick turnaround means faster action against drugs importers. Also, as we’re able to tell almost immediately what’s come in, we’re catching on to new border trends much faster.”

In six months, the lab has tested over 750 substances ranging in variety - powders, crystals, liquids, creams, gels, tablets, capsules, paper tabs and plant material.

Records show 35% of substances were controlled drugs (6% Class A, 18% Class B, 11% Class C) and 52% not controlled – i.e. legitimate imports ok to be released. Around 13% were unknowns, many of these including new analogue drugs.

“We’re seeing a lot of different analogue drugs – LSD, MDMA and more. A sample that couldn’t show a result on FirstDefender, within minutes of being tested in the lab showed similarities with an amphetamine analogue, but with slight variations. It was as easy as that.

“So, thanks to proceeds of crime funding – we are identifying more drugs faster, more easily and safely. This has also sped action against drugs importers and analysing new border trends. What a great scheme that criminals can count themselves accountable for!” Bruce says.