Officers strategize to uncover large drug operations

TRI-CITIES - It's an uphill battle for local law enforcement. Seizing drugs and maintaining a citizen's right to privacy. Local officials are now forced to issue more search warrants.

It's the nooks and crannies you wouldn't expect. Officers scrambling to hunt down hidden contraband. Tearing through vehicles part by part, even panel by panel.

"It's about people hauling drugs from state to state, area to area and maybe even country to country even," said WSP Sgt. Darin Foster.

These troopers and deputies are training for a situation requiring a search warrant. It's a process that's become increasingly difficult for officers in Washington state.

"The state is a state that believes in the right of the people."

In 2009, a US Supreme Court case began requiring police to have probable cause to search a vehicle. Since then, the number of search warrants have gone up exponentially. I called multiple agencies to see just how much the numbers have changed since 2009, but learned no one tracks the number of warrants issued. Police say a red flag that could lead to a search warrant is by listening for inconsistency during traffic stops.

"Someone who's traveling a long distance, they don't have any luggage, their story doesn't match. There's lots of different clues and indicators and it's just not the norm," added Sgt. Foster.

Legalizing marijuana has complicated things, too. No longer can officers use just the smell of marijuana to issue warrants.

"They just need a better strategy to crack down on the bigger fish," said Kennewick resident Alyssa Tolison.

Alyssa Tolison lives in Kennewick. She's known drug runners before.

"If they had bigger rigs, they'd pull out paneling, and hide it in the panels and then mask the panels," said Tolison.

She hopes for justice. It's the goal of this careful strategizing.