By Rick Pfeiffer
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — On the land, in the air, and on the water, 2012 was a busy year for the officers and agents in the Buffalo Sector of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The sector stretches along more than 400 miles of a shared border with Canada, from eastern Pennsylvania up to Lake Champlain. It includes 17 land border crossings, among them, the four international bridges of the Buffalo-Niagara region.
Add to that the CBP Buffalo Air and Marine Branch, which is responsible for covering more than 340 miles of maritime international border on the Niagara River, St. Lawrence Seaway, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, and you get a sense of the scope of the agency’s local misson.
Customs’ Buffalo Office of Field Operations is charged with protecting the land border crossings. The local bridges here are some of the busiest crossings in the U.S.
During 2012, Field Office officers processed approximately 9.4 million personal vehicles, 19.9 million passengers in those vehicles and 1.5 million commercial trucks.
In the process of doing that job, the officers used targeted operations and advanced technology to seize narcotics, intercept agricultural products that could cause environmental harm and arrest wanted criminals and immigration violators.
One high-profile arrest occurred in the Falls at the Rainbow Bridge.
On Oct. 11, CBP officers encountered a man as he was attempting to re-enter the United States in a taxi. A record check by the officers on the bridge showed the man was wanted by the Massachusetts State Police in connection with a murder investigation.
He was arrested and is awaiting extradition back to Massachusetts.
To the north, at the Alexandria Bay Bridge, CBP officers arrested a man wanted for sexual exploitation of minors. The 52-year-old was accused, in Florida, of 40 separate acts of sexual exploitation of minor.
At Lake Champlain, officers nabbed a man wanted by the FBI for multiple crimes including capital murder. The suspect faced charges of aggravated bank robbery, use of a firearm during the commission of a felony crime, felony possession of a firearm during the commission of a bank robbery and attempted murder of a police officer.
Outside the official border crossing, agents from the Buffalo Sector Border Patrol were racking up a record level of arrests. Agents made 1,143 arrests, including eight gang members.
With increased manpower in the sector, agents also seized $67,065 in U.S. currency and 1,717 pounds of marijuana. The active agents spurred the sector to a 194 percent increase in prosecutions.
But it wasn’t just about arrests for Border Patrol agents. There were six water rescues in 2012, including one of a Cuban national, who tried to illegally enter into Canada from the United States by swimming across the Niagara River.
Agents also assisted a Youngstown Level Regatta participant who suffered a traumatic head injury while sailing aboard a boat on Lake Ontario.
The CBP Buffalo Sector Marine Unit may have helped save Christmas by rescuing a surfing Santa Claus from the Niagara River as well.
On Dec. 23, while patrolling the Niagara River, marine interdiction agents looking for smugglers found themselves confronted with a Canadian citizen dressed as Santa Claus, who was windsurfing near Strawberry Island. Unfortunately for Santa, the mast on his windsurfing board broke and he fell into the water.
The agents where able to pull him from the 42-degree water and return him safely to shore.
The Buffalo Air Branch assisted the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the FBI and state and local police agencies in actions that resulted in 94 arrests and the seizures of more than $1.3 million in U.S. currency, 5,073 pounds of marijuana, 36.3 pounds of cocaine, one pound of heroin, two vehicles and seven weapons.
The Air Branch also assisted in the rescue of six people from Lake Ontario after their small boat sank.
As busy as the Air Branch was in 2012, the Buffalo Marine Branch assisted U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI, as well as state and local police agencies in seizures totaling $857,368 in U.S. currency, 462 pounds of marijuana, 26 pounds of cocaine, three pounds of other drugs, four weapons and one vehicle.
The Marine Branch also assisted the U.S. Coast Guard in six different life-saving situations during the 2012 boating season.
The agency even scored big in the Erie County Tactical SWAT Competition, where a team of Border Patrol agents took first place. The agents competed in six-different team events against the “best of the best” in the local law enforcement community.