JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - It’s not a secret that Rankin County’s Drug Interdiction Task Force is one of the best in the country - they were even chosen as the top team in America in 2017.
A little-known fact about them, though, is that they have also caught murderers, kidnappers, human traffickers, and many other categories of criminals during the course of their normal job.
“There’s a whole lot more to the interdiction world than just stopping cars,” said Deputy Sentel Easterling.
Each officer works with a K-9 partner who is trained to track and sniff for bombs or drugs as well as doing bite work, insuring that they’re never alone on the road.
Deputies agree that the dogs are an asset, but also a comfort.
“Just knowing that I can make that traffic stop and, no matter what, he’s going to be there for me,” Easterling said.
Interdiction task force members are trained to read motorists’ behaviors both on the road and when they’re confronted by officers.
“We’re looking for how the driver responds to us. Everybody’s nervous when they get stopped by the police and we understand that, but when you’re involved in criminal activity, your nervousness is going to go way up,” Deputy Chris Picou, who leads the team, said.
The truth is, no stop is the same.
“When we stopped a vehicle that had a compartment made inside of it, and once we opened the compartment we saw grenades,” he said.
His reaction to that was, “GET BACK.”
Deputies shut down the interstate until bomb technicians could get there and make the scene safe.
Picou said he can tell a lot about what’s going on in the drug world by what’s being shipped and how much. He said right now both supply and demand are high for drugs like heroin and methamphetamine.
“If there’s plenty of supply and I know there’s plenty of demand, the price is going to go down, so there’s plenty of product on the streets and it’s cheaper that it ever has been. So that’s something that concerns me as a law enforcement officer,” he said.
It’s well-known in the criminal underworld that Rankin County isn’t a great place to be transporting illegal things.
“They do their research just like we do,” Easterling said.
Picou said the job is dangerous for that reason, but also because the interdiction team is there to be proactive and to confront bad guys on the road.
“The thing on the interstate is that we’re looking for those people, we’re trying to find those people, so we’re looking for the trouble. And that means we end up in the trouble,” Picou said.
What used to be predictable was the schedule. Money was on the roads early in the week, and the drugs were on the roads at the end of the week.
“These drug runners and drug dealers aren’t looking at a calendar anymore. They’re not looking at a watch anymore. They’re just trying to move their product like any other business, so there’s no day or time to be out here that’s better than others,” Picou said.