What is a criminal interdiction investigation?

traffic_stopRecently, I wrote that the Iowa Supreme Court limited the ways in which police can engage in criminal interdiction investigation activity. That post began a series of articles where I intend to discuss different aspects of criminal interdiction investigations. This is the next installment.

To begin this discussion I want to acquaint you with the term interdiction and the general anatomy of a criminal interdiction traffic stop. I have previously blogged about these items but for purposes of this series of blogs I think it makes sense to revisit these items.

Initially, “interdiction” was a military term. In the army, “interdiction” refers to the act of delaying, disrupting, or destroying enemy forces or supplies en route to the battle area. Police believe that roads are their battlegrounds. So . . . cops started to use this term in their work.

In law enforcement, “drug interdiction” involves a continuum of events focused on interrupting illegal drugs smuggled by air, sea, or land. Normally, it consists of several phases— cueing, detection, sorting, monitoring, interception, handover, disruption, endgame, and apprehension—some of which may occur simultaneously.

Criminal interdiction investigation, highway interdiction and drug interdiction are different names used to describe the same activity; a traffic stop made for the purpose of detecting criminal activity unrelated to the traffic-based reason for the stop. Officers are trained to “look beyond the stop” for criminal activity.

Highway interdiction often involves the stop of an out-of-state car for a minor traffic violation, i.e. driving a few miles over the speed limit, following to closely, unlawful window tint, etc. During the stop, the officer engages the driver in “casual conversation” (at least that is how the officer will refer to it in courtroom testimony). This casual conversation is actually a specific part of the interdiction process known as the “interdiction interview”. During the interview the officer watches closely for signs of:

  • general nervousness
  • inconsistent answers or conflicting stories
  • other so-called odd behavior

For the officer these are indicators that the driver and/or passengers are involved in criminal activity. More about that in a later post.

The officer also observes the inside of the vehicle to find other so-called signs of criminal activity including:

  • fast food containers
  • luggage or lack thereof
  • energy drinks
  • cell phones
  • air fresheners
  • law enforcement stickers and posters
  • family photos

At the end of the stop the officer will write the driver a ticket or more likely a warning and tell the driver he/she is free to go. However, immediately thereafter the officer will begin asking questions such as:

  • Do you have drugs in the car
  • Do you have guns in the car
  • Do you have large amounts of cash in the car
  • Do you mind if I search your car
  • Do you mind if I run a dog around your car

When the driver refuses the officer’s attempt at a search, the officer will detain the occupants and call for the drug dog. The dog will invariably “hit” on the car. The officer will then search the car.

This is criminal interdiction investigation and the anatomy of an interdiction stop in a nutshell. In subsequent posts, I will break down all facets of the interdiction stop and explain the significance of each.