Sandra is a senior crimes and justice reporter for the Bay of Plenty Times.

Tauranga to get high tech drug-detection tool

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Customs Minister Nicky Wagner tries out one of the FirstDefender mobile substance devices that will assist NZ Customs officers in identifying drugs at the border. File/Photo.
Customs Minister Nicky Wagner tries out one of the FirstDefender mobile substance devices that will assist NZ Customs officers in identifying drugs at the border. File/Photo.

Tauranga is to set to get a new high-tech drug detection tool which will help protect the border as Customs steps up its fight against the importation of drugs.

Earlier this week Customs Minister Nicky Wagner unveiled 14 of the state-of-the-art "FirstDefenders" mobile drug analysers which will be used at ports and international arrival airports.

Ms Wagner said these devices would be a fundamental piece of equipment for front line officers, making drug identification "quicker, safer, and more efficient".

Being portable and easy to use, the drug analysers were ideal for use at ports and during Customs' search warrants or taken on board vessels being searched, she said.

The $60,000 devices use a laser beam to analyse the molecular fingerprint of a suspect substance, often without the need to open the packaging, to determine its legality.

It matched this fingerprint against a database of more than 11,000 illicit and legal substances to provide an accurate result within seconds.

Lloyd Smith, Customs cargo operations manager for northern ports, said two Customs officers from Tauranga had already undergone training in the US-manufactured device.

The Tauranga assigned FirstDefender would arrive in the country early next week, he said.

Mr Smith said the high-tech drug detection device would be a huge time saver given the almost instant substance identification results.

While in the first instance it would be used by Customs staff, police and Ministry of Primary Industries staff could certainly also utilise the technology as required, he said.

Port of Tauranga spokeswoman Sara Lunam said anything that supported the eradication of the importation of large quantities of drugs, and helped to protect the borders had to be a good thing.

Tourism Bay of Plenty chief executive Kristin Dunne said visitors arriving into ports and airports were accustomed to many forms of screening and security techniques in order to protect people and borders from dangerous or illegal products.

"We haven't yet discussed how the technology will be used at Port of Tauranga, but I am sure the majority of visitors would feel reassured by the process rather than inconvenienced," she said.

Ms Wagner said while the new machines would cost a total of $900,000, taxpayers need not worry as the entire bill would be paid for from confiscated proceeds of crime.

The other locations to receive the device were Opua, Auckland, Napier, New Plymouth, Wellington, Nelson, Christchurch, Timaru. Dunedin, Queenstown and Bluff.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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