The United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has established a task force to help keep gang-related activity from crossing the U.S.-Canada border at Windsor, Ont.

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Windsor police chief Gary Smith was in Detroit on Wednesday to announce a new, US-Canada task force to monitor the Detroit-Windsor border. ((Dennis Porter/CBC))

The Border Enforcement Security Task Force, or BEST, comprises law enforcement officers at the federal, state and local levels in the U.S. and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Canada Border Services Agency, Ontario Provincial Police and Windsor Police Service in Canada.

Together, those agents will cover about 1,160 kilometres of border.

"The BEST's mission is clear — to collaboratively identify and disrupt transnational criminal organizations exploiting our shared border," Brian Moskowitz, special agent in charge of ICE's office of investigations in Michigan and Ohio, said Wednesday morning in Detroit.

Its focus includes:

  • National security and terrorist threats.
  • Human smuggling and trafficking.
  • Contraband smuggling.
  • Bulk cash smuggling.
  • Money laundering.
  • Transnational gang activities exploiting the border region.

BEST good news for Windsor

In the past, law enforcement in both countries has been stymied by bureaucratic red tape. In the new scenario, Windsor police will assign one constable to work in the BEST office in Detroit to streamline communication between both jurisdictions and make it "a little bit smoother," said Windsor police Chief Gary Smith.

 

 'Guns, gangs and drugs don't recognize a border' —Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis

"If they call us and say 'We have a person going to this area. Can you check that out? Can you do a surveillance? Can you put some intelligence out there?' we can do that rather than them going through Washington, through Ottawa, and coming back down," Smith said. "Timing is everything."

"Now we're not slowing down at the port [of entry] to try to figure out 'Alright, who can we call at OPP or Windsor or RCMP or CBSA?'," Moskowitz said. "They're there, and those things can happen in real time."

Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis, who on Oct. 1 called Windsor "a conduit for guns" because of its proximity to the U.S. border, praised the new task force, calling the co-ordinated enforcement a positive development.

"The issues that we've been dealing with on border cities clearly identifies that guns, gangs and drugs don't recognize a border," Francis said.

Detroit's BEST is the 17th in the U.S. and the third on the northern border. There are three BESTs each in Texas, California and Arizona, two in New Mexico and New York, and one each in Florida, Washington and Mexico City.

In fiscal 2008, BEST teams seized 23,777 kilograms of marijuana, 818 kilograms of cocaine and 386 kilograms of ecstasy, as well as 432 weapons and more than $8.8 million US, according to a press release.