US Customs and Border Protection confronts security threats, protects SWFL’s air and sea borders

An elite crime-fighting unit works from both the air and the water. Last week, they were able to move in and arrest a fugitive from Washington state off Fort Myers Beach.

Now, Safety and Security Specialist Rich Kolko and video journalist Erik Randlov take you aboard and behind the scenes with these highly trained crime fighters.

With lights out, a high-speed boat and a helicopter CBP teamed up to stop a drug smuggler.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, or CBP’s, aviation and marine units work in unison to close in. Edmund McCafferty is an air interdiction agent with CBP.

“We fly counter-smuggling missions that include people and narcotics,” McCafferty said.

While not necessarily the most well-known federal law enforcement agency, their work is critical to the safety of Southwest Florida.

Experience and training help them look out for anything suspicious.

“We go out and look for any indicators that are not consistent with normal boat traffic,” McCafferty said.

Then, the watch and wait game begins until something catches their eye.

“We coordinate with our marine assets so they can perform the interdiction and then conduct a further search and investigation,” said McCafferty.

This while the Helo Team provides top cover to their teammates on the water.

Cleon Arrington is a supervisory marine interdiction agent for CBP. “We don’t always have to have them right above us to be working with them,” Arrington said.

“Sometimes they will go out ahead of a float and tell us what’s going out what’s going on out there because we need domain awareness,” said Arrington.

Gathering the latest intel sets them up for an at-sea intercept and the current threat picture in Southwest Florida keeps everyone busy.

“East coast of Florida and Southwest Florida have had an increase of migrants as well as drugs lately,” Arrington said. “Everybody’s busy and we’re sticking to the mission.”

When they spot something and need to check it out, a few quick radio calls are all it takes to bring the 41-foot boat up close to check out a recreational boat.

While it is a rocket on the water, it can still approach stealthily and turn a routine interception into a friendly encounter and the boaters are quickly on their way.

Drug smuggling isn’t the only mission for the Air and Marine Operations crews. They are also in the air and out on the water during natural disasters. The CBP conducts rescues after hurricanes and provides support on national security missions, such as protection for major events like the recent Super Bowl in Tampa.

Reporter:Rich Kolko
Writer:Drew Hill
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