An interstate highway in Australia may seem worlds away from Utah, but police officers there are taking skills they've learned from their Utah colleagues and using them to nab drugs, cash and bandits.
Overwhelmed by a rapid escalation in illegal drug smuggling and stymied by the often slippery tactics employed by dealers, some Australian cops turned to the experience forged in the remote deserts of Utah by highway patrol troopers.The idea was the brainchild of Constable Gabriel Jose, a member of the 7,000-strong police force in Queensland.
He said he happened to be in Utah several years ago and asked to attend a two-day drug interdiction training seminar put on by the Utah Highway Patrol.
"We didn't have formulated training at all. This is something that has never really happened in Australia before, and we needed something to quickly catch up."
It took time, effort and the money of a corporate sponsor, but Jose managed to have Utah Highway Patrol Lt. Ken Betterton and Sgt. Lance Bushnell spend 20 days in Australia earlier this year offering training to about 70 Queensland Police officers and 85 members of the Australian federal customs bureau.
"Utah was the ideal place to turn to for the training. We need to train our officers in tactics and techniques for criminal drug interdiction."
Jose said an interstate highway in his home country has turned into a profitable avenue for smuggling heroin, marijuana and other illicit drugs.
"It has become quite extensive. Officers have stumbled across it by accident."
Jose, who was in Utah last week for a visit, said the training has resulted in several success stories.
Officers seized $52,000 in drug money in one incident and arrested three drug suppliers in a second incident, taking in about $91,000 in that bust.
Jose said police have also been able to document information about a national drug smuggling ring previously unknown to authorities.
"This has been highly successful for us," Jose said.
Betterton, who is the training director of the Utah Highway Patrol, said Australia's reliance on the Utah department speaks of how successful the state's drug interdiction program has become.
"It's consistently in the top five nationally in terms of narcotics seizures, confiscations, number of cases and number of arrests," Betterton said.
The February training is not the first time Australian law enforcement has turned to Utah for guidance.
Jose said Queensland police previously worked with Salt Lake officers to learn more about their field training program, in which new hires work side by side with veteran officers. Another time, Australian authorities received training from the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office on how to successfully apprehend jail escapees.
"As a result of that we were able to apprehend three people who escaped from a maximum-security prison who were armed with high-powered rifles."
Jose, a 14-year-veteran of the police department, said it's been a wonderful opportunity to take advantage of Utah's knowledge in fighting illegal drugs.
"Policing problems are very much the same worldwide. We were looking for a way to combat our drug problem, and we found it."