SCOTIA, N.Y. (7/30/12) - The New York National Guard's Counterdrug Task Force provides specialized tools to law enforcement combating drug trafficking, including the Rapiscan system - a truck mounted x-ray - which enables law enforcement agencies to search for hidden drug compartments in seized vehicles.
A drug trafficker speeds his way up the New York Thruway. Ten pounds of marijuana are hidden in a compartment below his seat. He's nervous. He presses the gas pedal. He looks over his shoulder -- flashing lights.
And now he's in trouble.
He opens his window and the policeman notices a strong scent wafting from the car. But from where? The car is held for further analysis. The police officer calls for support.
And the New York Counterdrug Task Force answers.
Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Brian Gillis, who manages the scanners and other equipment at Counterdrug, estimates his unit is called to help law enforcement find hidden drug compartments 30 to 40 times a year.
The goal is to gather evidence, to find and identify narcotics -- all of the narcotics, no matter how cleverly hidden. Counterdrug offers several specialized tools to agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Department of Homeland Defense, the Albany Police Department, and others.
Counterdrug offers these tools to law enforcement agencies at no cost, Army National Guard Col. Michael J. Sloma, New York Counterdrug coordinator, said.
"We have certain types of specialized equipment that we lend out to law enforcement agencies to help them fight drug trafficking in our communities," Sloma said.
"This allows smaller police departments to focus their budgets on their own needs," Sloma said, "while still having access to expensive and specialized equipment such as helicopters, night vision goggles and drug detection tools, all operated by experts with military skills and training."
One of the tools Counterdrug offers is the Rapiscan, which can scan entire vehicles, and another is the Itemiser, which uses ion technology to identify the trace remnants of narcotics, explosives and other substances.
Depending on the circumstances, these two tools can be at a site within an hour. Once there, Counterdrug personnel provide instruction on how to use the Rapiscan and the Itemiser. Their role is to be technical advisers - it's the police who do the policework.
"We're stewards of this equipment," Sloma said. "We make sure it's maintained and assessable, and we get it to where it's needed."
In the past, Gillis, said the Rapiscan has been used to break cases open. He recalls how once, during a double homicide investigation, investigators were unable to find the murder weapon. Then they scanned the suspect's car: they found a hidden compartment with two guns, cell phones and cash. One of those guns was the murder weapon.
The investigators got the conviction.
The Itemiser, too, helps law enforcement take drugs off New York's streets. The Itemiser has the size and appearance of an office printer. Gillis takes a flat swab and runs it across a $20 bill. He inserts the swab into a slot in the machine. Within seconds, the machine makes its analysis: no trace of drugs here.
He runs a swab against a chair was once exposed to heroin. He inserts the swab into the machine -- a positive.
Here's how it works: the Itemiser superheats each swab. Each substance reacts in a different way to this process. The Itemiser runs the results through a database. If the reaction matches that of an illegal substance, it will inform its operators within seconds. Gillis says it has a two percent false positive rate.
Tools such as the Itemiser are available to help law enforcement gather evidence and confirm suspicions, says Gillis. "If they suspect, this is how they can confirm," he says.
Gillis stresses that Counterdrug does not directly arrest or keep any information on individuals. Instead, Counterdrug provides tools such as the Rapiscan and Itemiser to help law enforcement focus on what they do best: apprehending the bad guys.
The Department of Justice’s Access to Justice Initiative (ATJ), has been working with foreclosure mediation program and court administrators, researchers, advocates, and representatives from government agencies and the lending community to support mediation and legal services to stem the foreclosure tide.
This spring, ATJ, along with representatives from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Housing Counseling Program, briefed state attorney general offices on the value of foreclosure mediation programs, where a neutral third-party (often, but not necessarily employed by a court) helps facilitate negotiations between a lender and homeowner as they attempt to reach agreement, as well as legal assistance and housing counseling that can help avoid preventable foreclosures and assist homeowners affected by mortgage default to understand their options to regain their housing and financial stability.
Since the date of the settlement, a number of states have made plans to use a portion of the settlement funds to implement funding initiatives geared toward increasing support for services that assist homeowners at risk of foreclosure.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan of Illinois and Attorney General Bill Schuette of Michigan have both announced plans to allocate settlement funds to state foreclosure prevention programs, including legal assistance. Attorney General Madigan, at an April forum on the “State of Legal Assistance” co-sponsored by the White House and the Legal Services Corporation, said:
“[W]e need to give homeowners a fighting chance to save their homes from foreclosure. The best way we can help is by providing distressed borrowers with legal representation to ensure they have an advocate to fight for them in the courtroom and that they will be treated fairly in the process.”Illinois is dedicating at least $20 million in funding from the settlement to legal counseling programs that help borrowers who are currently underwater or facing foreclosure. In Michigan, Attorney General Schuette is backing legislation that would direct $20 million in funds from the settlement to foreclosure counseling and legal aid services for homeowners.
These states are not alone. Attorney General Roy Cooper of North Carolina has committed over $30 million to provide housing counselors and legal services to distressed homeowners. Attorney General Dustin McDaniels of Arkansas plans to direct $3 million of the settlement funds to the Arkansas’ Access to Justice Commission, and to two University of Arkansas law school clinics that provide legal aid and assistance to low-income residents.
“Maryland has led the nation in its swift response to the foreclosure crisis,” said Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley. In May, Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler and Governor O’Malley announced that $14.8 million from the settlement will be used for both housing counseling and legal aid assistance programs. “This plan sticks to the spirit and the letter of the settlement by using these resources to help the Marylanders most affected by the housing crisis. As a result, all Marylanders will benefit,” said Gansler. And Attorney General Martha Coakley of Massachusetts created a new program, HomeCorps, funded by settlement funds. HomeCorps will provide direct legal representation to distressed borrowers through local civil legal aid attorneys.
Attorney Generals in Alabama, California, Colorado, Indiana, and Tennessee have also announced plans to use settlement dollars to fund programs for low and moderate income residents that include counseling support, legal services, and hotline support referral services.
The foreclosure settlement is providing much-needed relief to homeowners across the nation. ATJ seeks to continue to promote state efforts to use discretionary funds to further the goals of the settlement by providing support for services that are critical to helping keep homeowners at risk of foreclosure in their homes.