South Mississippi's I-10 a popular route for drug runners - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

South Mississippi's I-10 a popular route for drug runners

Officials have confiscated more than $100 million in illegal drugs, cash and weapons from vehicles traveling I-10 in south Mississippi in just the past year. (Photo source: WLOX News) Officials have confiscated more than $100 million in illegal drugs, cash and weapons from vehicles traveling I-10 in south Mississippi in just the past year. (Photo source: WLOX News)
JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) -

A look inside the confiscation vault at the metro enforcement team headquarters in Jackson County is packed floor to ceiling with drugs and guns.

The state's highway is a popular route with the drug runners, according to director of narcotics Joe Nicholson.

“Interstate 10, which travels from Los Angeles to Jacksonville, is a heavy corridor in order to get drugs into Atlanta, into the eastern portion of the United States,” Nicholson explained. “You're going to run into bulk quantities of cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine and heroin.”

But, Nicholson says that help is on the way from the newly reorganized metro enforcement team.

"When you work narcotics, the best thing to do is work as a group, as all the agencies do. And all the chiefs, and the board of supervisors, and the city councils are all committed to the MET team," said Nicholson. 

Officer Patrick Brandle and his partners travel I-10 just about every day.

“You don't know what their intention is when you walk up on a vehicle," said Brandle. "You just got to keep your head on a swivel, and as we say, watch our six.”

Technology helps in the search for drug runners, but Brandle feels that good old fashioned street smarts work even better. 

“When we were traveling eastbound, he went by us and swerved. Had a little driver reaction as we call it, a reaction to our presence," said Brandle. "As we were traveling eastbound through traffic, and we got a little closer to him, he swerved again.”

After a probable cause stop - for example, speeding - there are questions to see how people react. Confusing answers usually lead to a search of the vehicle, if the driver consents.

Brandle says drug runners are a very clever bunch when they hide their haul, hiding drugs in places such as truck beds, engine blocks, and even spare tires. 

But, it's not just men who transport the drugs and cash. Women and children are sometimes used as decoys.

“They'll use a lot of females because they are less likely to get stopped and searched,” Brandle said. “Unfortunately for them, that is not the case up here. We treat everybody the same.”

There's a widely held perception among the public that the drug runners are caught with the use of profiling. Well, the head of the Metro Enforcement Team, Joe Nicholson says that's simply not true. Not only is it morally wrong and illegal, it doesn't make sense. 

“Profiling doesn't make sense when it comes to interdiction work or anything because it really limits your focus on what you can and cannot seize. If you're limiting yourself to one specific race, then there's all kinds of stuff that you're not seizing," said Nicholson. 

The MET team can't catch everyone, but that doesn't stop them from trying.

“Doing nothing is certainly worse than the best effort that we can put out there, so I do think that we have some control and we are making a difference," noted Nicholson. 

Zachary Vaughn's life was torn apart by drugs. After landing himself in jail, he's now turning his life around in the drug court program. Clean for almost three years, Vaughn has a message for drug runners.

“It destroys lives, it's not a good thing. It's not OK, it's not acceptable. You look at the devastation that drugs and alcohol have caused in our community, in this country, and you know, that's dirty money. It's not something you want to have on your hands," said Vaughn.

Metro Enforcement Team officials estimate they have confiscated more than $100 million in illegal drugs, cash and weapons from vehicles traveling I-10 in south Mississippi in just the past year.

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