March drug bust total biggest in APD history

Sarah White

Operational secrets have enabled the Austin Police Department to make massive narcotics seizures, including three over the past month that were among the largest in the department’s history, said Lt. Norris McKenzie.

McKenzie said that 16.4 kilos of cocaine — worth approximately $6 million— 565 lbs of Marijuana — $310,000 — and three kilos of heroin — $1.5 million — were confiscated by APD in three separate busts. McKenzie said he had never before witnessed a seizure this large during his career at APD. He said he thought the increasing size of busts probably indicates increased drug trafficking in Austin.

“This bust was pretty unprecedented,” McKenzie said. “It means that the dealers are branching out and selling more drugs.”

McKenzie said the discovery of such large amounts of heroin and cocaine indicate that Austin has become a distribution hub for Mexican cartels.

“It’s not like [the narcotics] are coming from anywhere else,” McKenzie said. “Any heroin or cocaine we seize is coming straight from the Mexican border and it is the cartels that control the entry and exit points on that border.”

McKenzie said because cartels are involved in Austin drug trafficking, it is especially important to prosecute and sentence the dealers apprehended in all busts.

“We are not under any illusions about what our job is,” McKenzie said. “We are in the drug prosecution business. We try to disrupt the flow of the organization, get the leaders off the street and make sure they spend time in jail.”

Greg Thrash, spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration, said investigations conducted by the DEA directly indicate that the activity of Mexican drug cartels in Austin has been increasing over the past four to five years. However, Thrash said increased seizures could also indicate that law enforcement officials are getting better at catching the drug dealers.

“The DEA has seen a significant increase in drug seizures since 2010,” Thrash said. “In a large part, I believe that this can be attributed to increased cooperation and information sharing between various law enforcement agencies in the [Austin] area.”

Thrash said that the DEA has collaborated extensively with the FBI, the IRA, APD and other local police departments to confiscate more drugs and catch more dealers.

History senior Jose Nino, the president of Libertarian Longhorns, said he disagrees with the principle behind the seizures. Nino said he thinks APD’s regulation of drug distribution has contributed to the rise of cartel activity in Austin.

“This whole drug bust just represents another failure of the War on Drugs. When drugs are made illegal, they create massive black markets that are dominated by violent cartels.” Nino said. “It’s essentially prohibition 2.0.”