Pubdate: Wed, 13 Sep 2000
Source: Modesto Bee, The (CA)
Copyright: 2000 The Modesto Bee
Author: John Holland


A technology spun off from the Persian Gulf War will help local crime 
fighters sniff out methamphetamine labs in the Central Valley.

The Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to accept a 
$500,000 grant from the state Office of Criminal Justice Planning to buy a 
"stand-off chemical agent detector." The device, carried in a van, can 
detect infrared rays given off by the chemicals used to make methamphetamine.

"Quite frankly, this has some real high hopes in terms of our ability to 
enforce and shut down some of these labs," Sheriff Les Weidman told the board.

The device will be kept in Stanislaus County, but will be available for use 
in the nine valley counties in the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, 
from Sacramento to Kern County. The federally designated area uses a 
combination of law enforcement agencies to fight the war against meth.

The device will be built and delivered in about a year, Weidman said.

Aerospace Corp. developed the device for the military, which needed a way 
to detect use of chemical weapons by Iraq in the gulf war a decade ago. The 
version built for the valley will be the first nonmilitary application, 
Weidman said.

Drug agents can put it to use upon getting tips about methamphetamine labs, 
he said. It will take "photographs" of the infrared rays emitted by 
chemical fumes outside suspected labs, much like a conventional camera 
captures visible light rays.

The sheriff declined to say how close the device would have to be to a 
suspected lab.

"We don't want to provide a lot of information about the technology, quite 
frankly, because as we provide information, there will be a lot of 
sophisticated criminals out there trying to defeat it," he said.

Agents will still need warrants to enter buildings believed to contain 
equipment and chemicals used to make the drug, Weidman said.

The device also could be used for emergencies involving toxic substances, 
such as derailments of railroad tankers, he said. The "stand-off" in the 
name refers to the ability of workers to deploy it without being exposed to 

The valley is a major source of the worldwide supply of methamphetamine, 
Weidman said. Board Chairman Paul Caruso said the vast majority of criminal 
cases involve drugs in some way.

Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, got funding approved in the 
Legislature after hearing about the device from Modesto City Councilman 
Mike Serpa.

Cardoza hopes the device will "tell the crooks and the drug dealers in this 
county that they better start packing."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart