Border security is a hot topic right now, and the same roads that many people in the Valley travel on to get to San Diego and Rocky Point have become a hot bed for drug smugglers.
The smugglers have breached the border, snuck around security checkpoints and hiked miles to deliver drugs destined for Valley cities (and even to be sold out of state).
A special ops squad from the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, under the direction of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, is trying to chip away at what they say is a growing problem by using classic stakeouts with the help of high-tech tools.
Over this particular two-week mission they used quads, hikers, set up surveillance on desert
With the help of high-tech night vision and GPS, they spot and close in on "packers," which are border-crossers packing 50 to 70-pound blocks of marijuana on their backs, who’ve trekked at least 75 miles out of Mexico wearing camouflage and carpet shoes, literally fashioned with carpet soles to hide any footprints.
"Bigger groups, they'll split up when they get closer to [Interstate 8]," Det. Jason Felix said.
He said that it’s a challenge that keeps the stakeout points constantly moving as the drug runners use similar tactics to try to spot out and avoid the deputies.
"It would stun people how sophisticated they are,” Felix said.
Detectives also watch the roads for tell-tale driving signs that signal a potential pickup of packers, drugs and sometimes both.
“They’ll zigzag, go over mountains, the passes, it’s pretty brutal terrain they’re covering,” Felix said.
ABC15 cameras were rolling as detectives uncovered a drop house, a trailer filled with camouflage jackets and carpet shoes and a gutted-out van suspected of being used to transport drug bundles and to drive the smugglers into the Valley.
"Some people don't realize just how much drugs are coming over, how much it's really worth and the actual impact it's having on Arizona,” Felix said.
During the two-week mission, the squad made individual seizures, uncovering as much 350 pounds of drug blocks in a single roundup. One traffic stop revealed eight drug smugglers and 401 pounds of marijuana hiding in a truck.
Final tally of Operation Gila Monster: 13 arrests, two vehicles seized, 1,133 pounds of marijuana intercepted (worth at least $750,000).