More dogs at border to help sniff out drugs over Easter holiday

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 April, 2009, 12:00am

Eleven extra sniffer dogs will be on duty at Easter as part of a crackdown on cross-border drug trafficking.

The Customs and Excise Department made the announcement yesterday while revealing that it had detected fewer cases at land border control points in the first three months of the year than the same period of 2008.

The head of customs' drug investigation bureau, John Lee Cheung-wing, said: 'Apart from employing advanced technology, such as X-ray checkers and ion scanners, the department will deploy more staff to crack down on cross-border drug-trafficking during Easter.

'We will send more dogs to assist the handling of passengers at land boundary control points.'

The dogs, all trained in Britain, cost the department HK$1.7 million. Fifteen staff have also joined the division since July.

Among the newcomers is a Labrador called Peter, who joined the force last year. Led by customs officer Tse Wai-sheung, the dog discovered 104 grams of heroin at the Lok Ma Chau border last November.

In a demonstration for the press, Peter sniffed visitors passing the border control point. Once he detected a 'suspect' carrying drugs, he jumped on him to stop him escaping.

As a reward, Ms Tse gave Peter a towel to play with, which the dog cheerfully accepted. The dogs are not given food as a reward.

'If we encourage them with food, the dogs may follow tourists who carry food with them,' said another officer, Wong Ming-O.

The commander of customs' detector dog division, Lam Sze-hau, said: 'The detector dog division can be a caution against drug use. Not only can the dogs identify people who have drugs with them, they can also pick people who have taken or carried the drugs before [they cross the border].'

If the dogs detect teenagers who have used drugs recently but are not carrying narcotics, the department recommends they attend NGOs to help them quit their habit.

The dog division's expansion is part of the department's response to the increasing use of drugs by young people after the Taskforce on Youth Drug Abuse - led by Secretary for Justice Wong Yan-lung - issued a report on the topic in November.

Between July and March, 14 staff members have been sent to Britain, where they received six weeks of training on handling a detector dog. There are now 58 officers and 45 dogs in the division.

Customs officers detected 51 drug cases and arrested 43 people in the first three months of the year. Over the same period last year, 73 cases were detected, and 66 arrests made.

Mr Lee said: 'From 2008 to 2009, we saw an obvious drop in cases. The increased number of dogs employed and more officers taking action should have warned people.'