"We're seeing more cases where they've gone back to transporting it over the highway," said Fred Alverson, spokesman for U.S. Attorney Greg Lockhart. "Logic would tell you that if you increase security at one place - the airport - shippers will look to other ways to get it through."
A national issue
Police and federal agents are trying to combat the trend with a greater presence on the highways and closer scrutiny of trucks, rental cars and overnight packages. Investigations now increasingly target those methods of transportation.
Sometimes, authorities get an assist from technology, such as global positioning satellites that can be used to track suspicious airfreight packages.
And it's not only drugs they're finding: Counterfeit money and fraudulent documents also are moving with increasing frequency via overnight packages.
"I think it's a national issue," said Tim Willard, who runs operations for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Cincinnati. "People are exploiting the overnight package system, so we've targeted that now."
Despite the shift in focus, neither drug traffickers nor law enforcement is giving up on passenger airlines. Air travel still is the quickest way to transport drugs.
Willard said customs officials continue to closely watch international flights, particularly those from drug-producing countries. He said a few recent drug busts suggest traffickers still are willing to test airport security.
But Oetjen said there is little doubt they are testing it less than they used to.
"After 9/11, we thought security was going to have an impact, but not as much as it has," Oetjen said. "Before, they felt safe on the airways. Now I guess they don't."
Airport drug flow slows
Drug-related arrests and drug and cash seizures at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport:
CASH SEIZED IN DRUG CASES
AMOUNT OF DRUGS SEIZED
Year Heroin Cocaine Crack cocaine Marijuana
2000 4.9 kilos 20.1 kilos 1.26 kilos 520.4 lbs.
2001 2.7 kilos 3.7 kilos 337 grams 355.4 lbs.
2002 0 3.3 kilos 80 grams 5.4 lbs.
2003 59 grams 2.7 kilos 0 64.5 lbs.
2004 4.5 grams 2 kilos 0 95.3 lbs.
Source: Airport police
The Enquirer/Mike Nyerges
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