DESERT SNOW E-mail
Written by Spc. Shawn Miller   

As a young California Highway Patrolman, Joe David never imagined that he would soon be at the forefront of the war on drugs. Nearly 20 years after developing the groundbreaking Desert Snow program, David is considered the leading force in highway interdiction. Just recently, David and his team of experts teamed up with the Pennsylvania National Guard's Northeast Counterdrug Training Center (NCTC) as they rolled into Willow Grove NAS to bring the Desert Snow course to law enforcement agencies from across the country.

"Public safety is number one," said David, a 20-year veteran of the police force. "[We] should be aggressively looking to keep families safe." Since its inception, his Desert Snow program has helped thousands of police officers take millions of dollars worth of drugs and contraband off the roads and get the smugglers behind bars.

"Major criminals are most vulnerable while in transit," said David. "All the stuff has to go on the highway at some point." During the 32 hours of the 3-phase course at Willow Grove, the 96 students learned how to search vehicles professionally and in the least intrusive way while looking for small clues that can indicate drug trafficking.

The students learned many unique ways of finding well-hidden drugs within vehicles. "I never dreamed of using a stethoscope and banging on a tire," said Eric King, an 11-year veteran of the Virginia State Police. David's cool-handed and clever technique of asking simple questions to drivers during traffic stops has caught hundreds of drug smugglers, a technique he hopes to impress upon his students.

"Adrenaline kills short-term memory," Joe explained to the students. "Make them more ‘MILLER/2-2-2' nervous and it kills the back story." After a day of lectures about how to detect and detain drug smugglers, the students were turned loose on several vehicles packed with simulated drugs to see if they were able to use their lessons to find the hidden caches. "It heightens awareness," said John Donnelly of the Manheim Township Police Department.

"Looking back, I've probably missed things, so this will help a lot." The course teaches a standard course of action for the students to follow when they encounter criminal activity in the future, explained David as being a "methodical approach." Hidden compartments and trick containers could not stand between the students and the concealed drugs as they went over the test vehicles inch by inch using the clues taught to them by Joe David.

Alex Villagram, a U.S. Border Patrol agent from California, said he hopes to take back the lessons from Desert Snow and share with the rest of his unit, patrolling a hotbed of drug trafficking. "It would raise the performance level of the whole unit," he said. The students agreed that the program has been a big success for them and has impressed upon them the importance of small clues to combat the drug trade.

Getting so many law enforcement officers together for a class in cooperation with the military may well be setting a new precedent for the course, as well. "This wouldn't be possible without NCTC," said David. "There's been fantastic cooperation between the police and the military." After finishing the course, the small detection clues that the students learn will certainly have a huge impact on the war on drugs as the students hit the open road and sniff out smugglers.

"There's obviously something to it," said King.


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