New Plymouth Customs' new drug laser speeds up substance identification video


Customs manager Megan Harvey talks about their new drug identification device.

New Plymouth's customs officers have a new toy that's helping them identify illegal pills, powders and even liquids entering the region. 

Dubbed the "First Defender" it's a laser that can identify substances in a matter of seconds, as opposed to the previously weeks or months needed to get samples back from a laboratory.  

"It gives us an immediate reading that I have sugar in front of me as opposed to meth for example," New Plymouth customs manager Megan Harvey said. 

Customs manager Megan Harvey & detective sergeant Gerard Bouterey have put the device to good use already.

Customs manager Megan Harvey & detective sergeant Gerard Bouterey have put the device to good use already.

"It works with a laser, the laser beam strikes the substance and can read the chemical make up of it, including any binding or filling agents. 

"It then compares this to a database of more than 11,000 chemicals and matches it to one of them, or provides a close match."

Customs make biggest ever seizure of P
New Zealand's biggest meth bust a 'comedy of errors'
Even more methamphetamine found in Northland sand dunes
Meth arrests: Fisherman who went to police with information scared for his life
Meth arrests: two men appear in court after record methamphetamine drug bust

The First Defender uses a laser to identify the chemical make-up of substances it scans - even through plastic.

The First Defender uses a laser to identify the chemical make-up of substances it scans - even through plastic.

It's not just drugs they're checking for, the First Defender can identify all kinds of chemicals from explosive powders to household items like sugar and flour. 

Usually unidentified substances would have to be sent to the the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) for testing before customs can make a prosecution, Harvey said they now only need to send off substances that it identifies as illegal, saving them a lot of time. 

"From a customs perspective it removes the need to handle the substance ourselves because the laser can go through the bag," she said. 

The device can quickly tell customs officers whether they're looking at meth or sugar.

The device can quickly tell customs officers whether they're looking at meth or sugar.

The device can't find the substances for customs though they still use x-ray machines and sniffer dogs to monitor all the entry points into the region including air freight, courier and at Port Taranaki.

Ad Feedback

According to data obtained under the Official Information Act from Customs New Zealand; Port Taranaki has a low number of controlled substances being intercepted by customs staff in New Plymouth. 

The majority of the seizures at Port Taranaki between 2012 and 2016 were for prescription medicines - 35 incidents in that period - however these are not necessarily illegal but must be declared, have a prescription, be in their original container and not exceed three-month's worth of supply. 

While they did intercept a small quantity of cannabis seed in 2012, pseudoephedrine based products in 2013 and some codeine in 2014 it's a drop in the bucket compared to ports like Auckland and Wellington that see a raft of substances from opium to methamphetamine which smugglers attempt to get through the gates. 

Customs have to share their new toy with New Plymouth police though and detective sergeant Gerard Bouterey said it's already helped them in their day-to-day work. 

"For example we executed a number of search warrants last week and one of the trained operators bought it with them," he said. 

"At one place there were some pills we couldn't identify and the device told us they were prescription immediately.

"But we've had positive tests on meth with it before."

Bouterey said previously police would use a Narcotic Identification Kit (NIK) to identify suspected illegal substances, however these require a physical sample of the substance to be dropped into a solution, which then identifies the primary chemicals. 

"The advantage of the first defender is you don't have to remove any of the substance to test it," he said.

"The benefit is around charging, previously we had false positive tests from the NIK tests, they would come up with a particular chemical and we would charge on that but they can be a bit variable." 

The device was purchased with proceeds from the Criminal Proceeds Recovery Act and customs minister Nicky Wagner said last year it was a way of "using assets taken from criminals to purchase tools that will help seize more drugs and catch more criminals".


 - Stuff


Ad Feedback
special offers

Wind testing site consented

An 80-metre wind monitoring mast at Meridian Energy's Mt Munro, Masterton wind farm – similar to what will be installed ...

Winds sweeping across the north-west will now be monitored at Woodhill Forest.

First home fizzer

Nicola Kellerman is hoping to buy her first home with her husband Tim Hunter.

The Government has promised 34,000 new homes in 10 years but what about the first home buyers of today?

Electrical fault causes fire

Fire crews at the scene hose down after exiting the building.

A fire at a multi-storey office building in downtown Auckland is no longer being treated as suspicious.

Families will reap budget change in housing supplement

Finance Minister Steven Joyce announced a change in the accommodation supplement on May 25.

An eligible family of three would take home more than $305 a week under new accommodation supplement rules.


'Tug of jaw' at Kapiti school video

Jayden Viljoen, 8, and police dog Falon at Your Lady of Kapiti School.

Jaws beat hands when Falon the police dog took on Kapiti school kids in a test of strength.

Bus standstill looms

Masterton companyTranzit is the preferred bidder to take over 60 per cent of Wellington's bus services.

Commuter chaos could be on the way as Wellington's bus drivers reject pay offer from new boss and threaten to strike.

Penguin killed in dog attack

A penguin has been killed by a dog in central Wellington (File photo).

A dead little blue penguin in Wellington is a reminder to keep dogs on leashes.

Ex-mayors receive royal honours

Two of Wellington's former mayors, Celia Wade-Brown, left, and Fran Wilde, are honoured at Government House investitures ...

Fran Wilde and Celia Wade-Brown score high honours for service to the country.


Shortfall could be raised in 5 years

The $55m funding shortfall for the cathedral could be raised in five years, experts say.

$50m funding shortfall to restore Christ Church Cathedral could be found, Govt report says.

David Bain's new life

David Bain at his home in Christchurch after the Government's compensation announcement.

The 45-year-old, who was acquitted of the murder of his family, drops the Bain name and is about to move overseas.

Rangiora's 'ticking time bomb'

Lilybrook residents observing driver behavior at the busy intersection in Rangiora.

Lilybrook residents believe it is a matter of time before someone dies at the intersection.

NZ's elderly going hungry

New Zealand's elderly population is going hungry, a new study has found.

Too many elderly people are going hungry, sparking calls for mandatory screening.


Maitland's Top 5 this weekend

Katchafire are back in the Tron Friday night, playing at Altitude bar.

Concerts and performances, netball and a food fundraiser. This is your Top 5.

Shooter's kidnap claim

Rhys Warren was found guilty at trial earlier this year.

Sentencing delayed after Kawerau siege shooter fires lawyer and claims he's been a victim of kidnapping.

School bans fidget spinners

Principal concerned that children that don't have a fidget spinner will feel left out.

School bans use of fidget spinners because they cause too many arguments.

Don't forget the lean years

Farmers need to remain mindful of their spending to keep their costs down despite the jump in milk prices.

Price increases are welcome but farmers need to heed lessons, DairyNZ boss says.


The war on myrtle rust

Myrtle rust fungal spores found on plants such as pohutukawa, rata and manuka.

The battle against myrtle rust gets harder every day, but those in the thick of it remain confident of victory.

Guilty to manslaughter

Taranaki woman Helen Rose pleaded guilty to manslaughter during an appearance in the High Court on Friday.

Close to a year after her partner's death, a South Taranaki woman admits to killing him.

Thieves targeting utes

One of the stolen vehicles: DLN435 1993 Toyota.

In the past 30 days, 21 vehicles have been taken in Taranaki.

Recycling centre fire won't halt collection

Firefghters have been called to the Colson Rd transfer station in New Plymouth, where smoke is pouring from two sheds.

Two staff members at New Plymouth's recycling centre have been taken to see a doctor after attempting to fight a fire with extinguishers.


Bringing tattooing into the light video

Mikal Carter works on a kea tattoo for a client.

In the Shade is an art studio where two creative souls meet.

Boost not enough

Mental health services will receive an extra $224 million over four years.

Campaigner says people with mental health problems need more government help.

Robbery arrest

The Rangiora Ave Mini Mart was robbed in 2016.

A 17-year-old is to appear in court charged over a daylight dairy robbery.

Hubbard remembered for kindness

The late Graham Hubbard, in his former role as Palmerston North coroner.

Former Palmerston North coroner Graham Hubbard fades away.


Little Hunter rolling with 'pedal power' video

Hunter Grooby 6, with his sister Abby 7, and his new customised trike.

A young boy with cerebral palsy has the whole community behind him as he gets a new set of wheels.

Boost for families

Low income families in Mapua eligible for the accommodation supplement could get an extra $145 a week following Budget ...

Low income households in Mapua among big Budget winners.

Woman cut from car

A three car accident on Waimea Road resulted in a woman being cut from her car.

A three car accident on Waimea Road resulted in a woman being cut from her car.

Robbery 'guts' Mapua bakery boss

Mapua Village Bakery owner and baker Sean Carley gets back to business so not to ...

Mapua Village Bakery owner Sean Carley is picking up the pieces after a brazen robbery.


Mac is the man

Richard McNamara will be responsible for Tasman, Marlborough-Kaikoura, the West Coast, North Canterbury, Christchurch ...

Marlborough's rural fire boss Richard McNamara has landed one of the top jobs in the new amalgamated fire service.

Two suspicious fires

Blenheim Volunteer Fire Brigade crews responded to two suspicious fires on Thursday night.

Months on from a spate of suspicious fires in Blenheim, fire crews responded to two suspicious fires in one night.

Help for renters

Finance Minister Steven Joyce holds up a copy of Budget 2017, which includes the Family Incomes Package.

Budget reacts to "crazy" city rents in Blenheim, but will landlords follow suit?

Board that kicked the hornet's nest

The board is reconsidering moving district nurses to the health hub on Queen St, in the former FloorPride Civic Theatre ...

Angry mob warns health boss he'll get stung if he shifts district nurses away from hospital.

South Canterbury

Back to China for treatment

Timaru resident Simone Greig is once more going to China to receive treatment for terminal cancer. While she is overseas ...

Simone Greig is preparing to return to China for treatment to battle her terminal cancer.

No trust after release video

High Country Salmon assistant farm manager Josh Wyber was devastated to find 6000 salmon had been illegally released ...

Salmon farm ramps up security measures following illegal release of 6000 fish.

Timaru man missing

Michael Craig McGrath went missing on Sunday evening.

Police seeking sightings of  three missing South Island men, including one from Timaru.

Forum held in Timaru

Waimate mayor Craig Rowley , left, Timaru mayor Damon Odey and Mackenzie district mayor Graham Smith were at the forum ...

Mayors gathered in Timaru for the first Canterbury mayoral forum to be held here.


Students sell business ideas

James Hargest College students Sarah Botting, 16, Bailey Bishop, 16, and Paige Devlin, 17, after presenting their pitch ...

Southland students turned business entrepreneurs in a bid to win over a panel of judges on their business ideas.

Making ends meet

Sharon Soper, manager of Jubilee Budget Advisory Service in Invercargill.

"The incomes people get generally don't go up to meet the cost of living."

ILT set for a constructive year

Invercargill Licensing Trust general manager Greg Mulvey.

The ILT is set to take up an unusually high number of construction projects.

Deep south trees go viral

To farmer Barry Brown, they're just there to shelter the sheep. But to everyone else, they're a beautiful wonder.

A Catlins macrocarpa stock shelter belt is going viral thanks to US lifestyle website Brightside.

Ad Feedback