Ten Questions You Always Wanted to Ask a Border Official

"I once found a dildo that was as long as my forearm in an old lady's house. At first, I thought it was a baseball bat."
October 16, 2018, 8:15am
A man is led away by border agents
Photo via the US State Department

This article originally appeared on VICE Germany.

A lot of people hate Daniel*. He's a customs officer, responsible for making sure that certain things—from drugs to guns to cash—are not illegally smuggled into Germany. One day, he might be handling a sniffer dog at the border; the next, in the office, doing nothing much; the next, inspecting restaurants and deporting migrants who are working without permission.


Daniel and his team are also involved in cracking down on some pretty serious crimes, such as when they saved a group of Eastern European women from being forced into a prostitution ring. "There were condoms everywhere," he told me. "The girls were scared and totally exhausted. We found their 'customers' sitting next door, who all looked old enough to be my grandfather."

I spoke to Daniel to find out how easy it is to trick a sniffer dog, whether he's ever kept a confiscated item, and if he ever feels bad about deporting people.

VICE: How hard is your job?
Daniel: It's a pretty relaxed life. I have a secure job and the salary is fine—just under €2,400 [$2,785] a month. The pressure to perform is not that intense, especially for investigators. It's fairly difficult to gauge how much we actually work because every operation is different. I work in the field quite a lot but when I'm on office duty, there are days when I do pretty much nothing if I don't feel like it. You could never get away with that at a normal job. Of course, you have to focus when you're out working in the field, though.

How do people trick your drug-sniffing dogs?
It's difficult—they are really good and they actually uncover quite a lot. People try wrapping their drugs in wax and foil, before soaking it in gas, but the dogs still find them, even if it's just a few grams. I'd never try to smuggle something past a sniffer dog.

Does your job and gun and uniform make you feel powerful?
I'm happy I wear a uniform because it makes people understand that we're a proper authority that should be taken seriously. I think the visibility of our weapons also has a big impact. When people see the guns, they noticeably become more respectful. My colleagues who work in tax investigation often search homes—just like we do—but they don't carry weapons, so they're constantly running into problems because they're taken less seriously. Luckily, I've never had to use my weapon, and I hope it stays that way.

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Have you ever come close to firing your gun?
No, but we have regular practice-shooting sessions, where we get to work with a shooting coach. We can pick the exercises we want to do, from action-oriented and precision shooting to shooting from cover and much more. Of course, the coaches supervise the entire session, but it's still fun and I really look forward to it every time.

Do you ever keep confiscated goods for yourself?
No, I'd never do that. The authorities are really strict when it comes to that. We always secure confiscated goods as evidence in front of the accused. And confiscated drugs are sent off to chemical laboratories, where they are tested before they come to the evidence room, before they're eventually burned. But I don't think anyone would notice if you took a few grams of weed or something.


Have you ever worn your uniform during sex?
No, but I've used the handcuffs before.

Do you ever feel sorry for the people you catch who are trying to work illegally?
We often have to detain asylum seekers—poor guys who just want to work, but the law won't let them. But because they go ahead and do it anyway, they quickly find themselves in the middle of criminal proceedings and end up getting deported. There's nothing I can do after someone has been convicted of a crime. I would lose my job if I let someone run. There are some people that I'll never forget—people who are detained for questioning, and then you find out that they have lived such hard lives. They've struggled for 20 years or more and finally they caught a break by making it to Germany. When people like this are kept in custody for deportation, I often think about them for days afterward. It makes me realize how ridiculous my own everyday problems are in comparison.

Do you find it quite satisfying arresting people who deserve it?
It can be—such as when we search the homes of people running brothels, who are really short-tempered and quickly become flustered. It's satisfying to know that they'll have to pay a huge chunk of money back to the state, especially when you see their incredible homes. There are often great treasures to be found there—heated pools in basements, safes filled with expensive jewelry, Rolex watches that cost at least €50,000 [$58,000] and huge fleets of luxury cars.


Do you enjoy going through other people's personal belongings?
Sometimes it can be entertaining. I once found a dildo that was as long as my forearm in an old lady's house. At first, when I pulled it out of the closet, I thought it was a baseball bat. Once I realized what it was, I couldn't help laughing out loud. The woman was good-humored about it.

There are certainly less amusing searches, though. I once searched the house of a restaurant owner who was dealing on the side. He was hounding me the entire time and threatened me personally at the end. Luckily, I haven't seen him since, but I drive by his restaurant quite often. I'll never eat there again.

Have you ever skipped searching a shop, even though you knew people were working there illegally?
When inspecting restaurants in certain parts of Germany, you can almost always be sure that you'll find something wrong. This sounds like a sweeping generalization, but it's just what those restaurant owners do. They bring their relatives, or friends from their home country, over to Germany on a vacation visa, and then employ them. They work there for less than minimum wage— like €3 [$3.40] an hour—because they'd get paid even less back at home. Processing these cases is always very time-consuming, and if you get assigned it near the end of your shift then it's best to just leave it, otherwise you'll never get home. Of course, these businesses will be inspected again the following week.

*Name has been changed to protect his identity.

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