A man steps off a flight carrying a large bag of prescription drugs. When questioned about the bag, his explanation and behavior seem strange. Airport police are suspicious. They contact the closest U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) field office. ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents put their current workload on hold to travel to the airport to assess the situation.
This was the reality in Panama City, Fla., and many other cities across the nation, prior to the Customs Cross Designation Program. The program, established under Title 19 of the U.S. Code, grants local and state law enforcement officers the same authority as ICE HSI agents. Currently, ICE HSI has more than 300 cross-designated law enforcement partners across the nation.
Last month, Panama City quadrupled the number of law enforcement partners with cross-designation authorities. Instead of having to contact the local Panama City field office for assistance, Panama City Airport Police officers can now enforce customs-related laws, conduct searches, make seizures and arrests, and perform law enforcement duties authorized by federal law. They have the authority to take down narcotics smugglers, money launderers and individuals committing fraud.
Before being granted with this authority, each participating officer was required to complete rigorous training, where they learned about ICE and border security and examined case studies.
"In a world of limited resources, having the ability to cross-designate officers is a force-multiplier for the Department of Homeland Security," said Springer.
Currently, ICE's Panama City RAC Office has cross-designated officers with the Panama City Police Department, the Panama City Beach Police Department, the Bay County Sheriff's Office and the Panama City Airport Police.