Border Patrol increases highway checkpoint frequency

Motorists on the North Olympic Peninsula are seeing more green.

There are more agents in green uniforms, more green-labeled patrol vehicles and more dogs wearing green vests.

The agency that has stepped up its presence is U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a division of the Department of Homeland Security.

Many of the agency's vehicles already were in the area, but decals were added to make the heightened level of security more obvious. In the past year, the agency also has more than quadrupled its agent presence in the area.

"We had only six people, now there are currently 25," said deputy chief patrol agent Joseph Giuliano. "Now we can really follow through with some of the responsibilities our agency has in the area."

Giuliano explained that it's his agency's responsibility to prevent the entry of terrorists and instruments of terror into the U.S. through the peninsula's long expanse of shores that share a waterway with Canada and border the Pacific Ocean.

"We are set up here for that purpose, however, if we do find ourselves in a situation where we find an illegal immigrant from Mexico, Canada or any other country, we will not ignore the fact," he said, indicating the same goes for any other illegal activity.

The agency has increased the number of highway checkpoints in the area and the frequency of staffing the checkpoints.

"There are three checkpoint locations in the area that we verified with the state Department of Transportation for safety and lack of conflict," he said. "And, with the addition of more agents, we are in a position to utilize those areas to make this place safer than it has been previously."

The first checkpoint, which was used in March 2007 and as recently as two weeks ago, is at milepost 198 on U.S. Highway 101 between Forks and Beaver. The second is near Quilcene at milepost 291 on the same highway and the third is on state Route 104 at milepost 12 just west of the Hood Canal bridge.

Nearly a dozen individuals have been arrested for drug possession, illegal entry into the country or outstanding warrants. Those arrested for alleged illegal entry face court proceedings that may result in their deportation.

Giuliano said the checkpoint frequencies will increase, with several planned in the near future. One was canceled on Aug. 28 in Forks due to bad weather. Agents will not do a checkpoint in bad weather.

"If we are already not there 24-7, then why be there in bad weather and possibly make the highway less safe," Giuliano said. "We are doing this for safety."

All drivers are required to stop at the checkpoints and turning around just before the checkpoint is likely to cause an agent to pursue the vehicle. That happened to one U.S. citizen allegedly in possession of drugs and with a warrant for his arrest whom agents stopped at the Forks checkpoint.

"We have canines on the peninsula now, too, which was never the case before," Giuliano said. "We usually have one around because terrorist groups have been documented as looking into existing smuggling enterprises to move their devices of destruction."

He said the dog can detect if a vehicle is trafficking drugs or people and that part of the program is likely to continue to grow in the area.

With an increased agent presence, the agency needs a larger facility to house the force, Giuliano said. Last year he was looking into getting a facility to house more than 50 agents that he initially would fill with 25 agents.

"Partnering on a facility, either with other federal agencies or local jurisdictions, isn't out of the picture," he said. "But we are negotiating a lease on a building that, for now, will likely just house us."

The agency has gone through several options for a permanent residence on the peninsula other than the federal building in downtown Port Angeles. Agents even looked into the old Costco building in Carlsborg. But now they hope to lease a facility while working on plans for a larger, more secure building for the future.

"There will be opportunities for a joint presence in a future facility, that is for sure," Giuliano said. "We look forward to being an integral part of the peninsula's and nation's security."

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